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Gravitational Insecurity and Recess

Gravitational insecurity is a term that means an excessive fear of ordinary movement. Blog-Gravitational Insecurity-Main-LandscapeIt can also be characterized by a child being uncomfortable in any position other than upright, or fear of having one’s feet off the ground. Gravitational insecurity is a form of over-responsiveness to vestibular input. This input is detected by the Otolith organs, located in the inner ear. These organs detect movement through space as well as the pull of gravity.

Recess is a common time you may notice children having difficulties with gravitational insecurities.

Here are some common red flags that may indicate your kiddo is having difficulty with gravitational insecurity:

  • Avoidance of playground equipment that kids of similar age enjoy
  • Avoidance of swings
  • Fear of heights or uneven surfaces
  • Overwhelmed by changes in head position
  • Fear of having their feet off the ground
  • Overly hesitant on slides
  • Has difficulty tilting their head back to look up at monkey bars

If you notice your child exhibiting some of the red flags listed above, they would likely benefit from an occupational therapy evaluation and treatment focusing on sensory integration. Throughout therapy your child will receive graded vestibular information through a multisensory approach. Slowly, they will learn to integrate and process sensory information more effectively.

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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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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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!

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Primitive Reflexes: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?

What are primitive reflexes?

Primitive reflexes are foundational motor responses to sensory input that appear in utero or shortly after birth for the purpose of defense and survival. They are the foundation for higher level motor, cognitive or intellectual processes that develop as a child matures and takes on increasing demands. blog-primitive-reflexes-main-landscape

Most primitive reflexes integrate within the first year of life meaning that complex, adaptive and purpose-driven actions can over-ride automatic responses. Postural reflexes, which typically begin to develop in the second year or life, are automatic reactions with a higher level response. They develop a child’s equilibrium reactions for balance and coordination as the child begins to sit, stand, walk and run. Their development is heavily influenced by the integration of primitive reflexes.

Each reflex is associated with development of a particular area of the brain and lays the groundwork for control of motor coordination, social and emotional development, intellectual processing, and sensory integration. When primitive reflexes do not adequately integrate, persistence of these patterns may interfere with related milestones. When a reflex is present, it can be viewed as a signal that function in that region of the brain is not optimized. When difficulties in a particular area of functioning exist, research has demonstrated a strong correlation with the persistence of reflexes originating from the area of the brain regulating those functions.

Why might some reflexes not be integrated?

There are many explanations for why a reflex (or several reflexes) may not be integrated. Factors such as genetics, unusual gestational or birth history, limited sensory-motor experiences, or early disease, illness, or trauma may contribute to persistence of reflexes. It is important to note that many children, and even fully functioning adults, do not have all of their reflexes fully integrated. It is when an individual displays a cluster of symptoms impacting sensory, motor, emotional, social or academic functioning that reflex integration becomes an important component to examine.

What happens if reflexes do not integrate?

Since primitive reflexes are major factors in motor development, a child with persistence of one or more primitive reflexes may experience a variety of challenges. Primitive reflexes are what help infants initially learn about their inner and outer environments, and are heavily linked to the sensory system.

If reflexes persist, they interfere with the development of higher level sensory systems (visual, auditory, tactile, taste, vestibular, smell, and proprioceptive). Interference with sensory systems can lead to learning, behavioral, and/or social challenges for children, especially in academic settings. Additionally, postural reflexes, which depend on the integration of primitive reflexes, are unable to fully develop. Underdevelopment of these reflexes causes delays in righting reactions related to balance, movement and gravity. An individual who has not developed efficient postural control will have to compensate for these automatic adjustments by expending extra energy to consciously control basic movements.

Below are just a few red flags of persistent primitive reflexes:

  • Emotional lability
  • Over/under-responsivity to light, sound, touch, and/or movement
  • Anxiety
  • Distractibility
  • Inflexibility
  • Difficulty with reading, spelling, math, or writing
  • Difficulty remaining still, completing work while seated, or frequent fidgeting
  • Poor posture
  • Poor grasping abilities. May grasp pencil too tight or too loosely
  • Difficulties with eating (pickiness, excessive drooling, messy eater)
  • Poor balance and/or coordination
  • Poor spatial awareness and/or depth perception
  • Difficulty knowing left from right
  • Poor bladder control and/or gastrointestinal issues

What do we do if reflexes are not integrated?

Activities and exercises that target specific reflex pathways can be introduced in order to strengthen particular neurological pathways. By developing these pathways, we aim to integrate the reflex and mature related functions.

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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What Will My Child Experience in an Occupational Therapy Session?

Pediatric occupational therapy focuses on increasing a child’s level of participation in all the activities that they want and need to complete on a daily basis. Some of the most important activities inblog-occupational therapy-main-landscape a child’s life include areas of self-care, play, school/academic-related skills, and attention and regulation. As these areas vary greatly according to the child’s needs, age, and interests, occupational therapy sessions can look very different depending on the child.

The following are some of the activities a child may experience in an occupational therapy session:

Fine Motor/Visual Motor Activities

Fine motor skills involve the controlled movements of the fingers and the hands to carry out tasks. For a child with difficulty in this area, occupational therapy sessions may work on the ability to hold a writing utensil properly, fasten buttons and zippers, or put on socks. This may also include engaging in small manipulation tasks such as stringing beads, transferring coins from palms to fingertips, or manipulating scissors. Visual motor activities often go hand-in-hand as they combine fine motor control with visual perception. Occupational therapy sessions targeting visual motor skills may include activities such as drawing shapes, writing letters, cutting out shapes, completing puzzles, completing mazes and dot-to-dots.

Sensory Integration Activities

Occupational therapy sessions targeting sensory integration are designed to help your child take in, process and respond to sensory information from the environment more efficiently. For example, for a child who is hypersensitive to tactile input, a session may involve encouraging the child to tolerate playing with sand, dirt, or finger paint over time. For a child who seeks out constant movement, a session may involve providing deep pressure input (yoga poses, rock wall, animal walks, etc.) via the proprioceptive system to help this child get the input they are seeking through appropriate means so that they can sit and attend to seated work, stay safe on the playground, or even fall asleep easier at night.

Executive Functioning Activities

Executive functioning skills are those that help guide our brains to complete tasks. These include skills such as task initiation, planning, organization, problem solving, working memory, and inhibition. In teaching these skills, the occupational therapy will mimic real life tasks to improve the ease at which these tasks are completed. For example, to work on planning and organization, your child’s session may involve planning for and carrying out a long term project with step by step completion, using strategies from the OT to increase adherence. For a child who has trouble with task initiation, a homework routine or contract may be created with the use of auditory and/or visual timers, movement breaks, etc.

Strengthening and Coordination Activities

Upper body strength and coordination as well as core strength and postural control also play a large role in a child’s ability to carry out daily tasks. Activities such as tying one’s shoes, sitting upright at circle time, playing basketball at recess and sitting in a chair long enough to take a test are all affected by these skills. Upper body strength may be addressed by activities such as manipulating theraputty or propelling oneself on a scooterboard with his or her arms. Core strength is often addressed through tasks challenging the core musculature, like completing yoga poses, maintaining a seated position on an unable surface, or even playing “crab soccer” in the crab walk position.  Coordination activities target the planning and putting together of movements, particularly those that use both arms at the same time or the arms and legs at the same time, such as throwing and catching a ball, completing jumping jacks, or climbing a playground ladder.

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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Sensory Processing Disorder and Fall Activities: Strategies to Promote Success at Apple Orchards and Pumpkin Patches

Fall is the perfect time of the year for children to explore apple orchards and pumpkin patches. These outdoor activities expose children to various sensory experiences. Children with Sensoryblog-sensory processing disorder-fall-activities-main-landscape Processing Disorder (SPD) may have a difficult time appropriately responding to the sensory input that they are exposed to at these community events.

Below are several strategies to help prepare for and promote a successful experience at apple orchards and pumpkin patches with a child with Sensory Processing Disorder:

Preparation

Prior to leaving for the orchard or pumpkin patch, prepare your child for what he or she is about to experience (especially if it is the first trip to these fall sites). Have your child look at pictures or books related to these fall activities. Share with them the activities that they will partake in, so they know what to expect (e.g. hay ride, mazes, drinking cider). Discuss safety and the importance of staying together (e.g. holding hands).

What to Bring

Pack the essentials:

  • Clothing for various weather changes
  • Sunglasses/hat for children who are sensitive to bright sunlight
  • Preferred and comforting food/drinks
    • Crunchy/chewy foods and drinks that involve sucking thicker liquids through a straw can help regulate the body
  • Familiar or soothing item from home to help calm your child down or a fidget to help keep hands to self (e.g. blanket, toy)

Hula-Hoop Space/Retreat Spot

Some children have a hard time being in close proximity to other people and objects. To help them avoid feeling overwhelmed by this experience in the orchard and pumpkin patch, encourage your child to create a ‘hula-hoop space’ with his or her arms arched in front of the belly and fingertips touching. This will help your child visually see and physically feel how much space should be between him or her and other people/objects. As a family, determine a ‘retreat spot’ at the orchard or patch that you and your children can retreat to help re-organize the body and take a break.

Regulating Heavy Work

Your child may seek out a lot of movement and take climbing risks. Heavy work activities can help organize and regulate the body. At an apple orchard or pumpkin patch you can encourage the following heavy work activities. Be sure to appropriately modify the weight your child pulls/carries/pushes based on his or her age and size:

  • Pull a wagon
  • Push pumpkins
  • Carry a sack of 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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A Sensory Friendly Fourth of July | Facebook Live Video

The 4th of July is a fun holiday and takes some preparation! Watch one of our expert Occupational Therapists who covered red flags and shared tips on how to ensure your child has a sensory friendly 4th of July.

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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Messy Sensory Play | Facebook Live Video

Have some fun and get a little messy! One of our expert Occupational Therapists discussed why messy play is important, provided tips for helping your child with touch sensitivities and even covered a few activity ideas for your kiddo to do at home!

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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Sensory at Summer Camp | Facebook Live Video

Kids are having fun at summer camp and it’s time to do everything we can to make sure they’re getting as much out of it as possible! Join one of our expert occupational therapists for Sensory at Summer Camp!

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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Top Sensory Strategies for Use in the Classroom

Promoting your child’s success at school can be a challenging task, particularly for parents of childrenSensory Strategies with sensory processing difficulties. Communication between parents, teachers and school personnel is critical for establishing a safe, supportive and enriching environment. Children with sensory integration difficulties may have enormous problems in the classroom, not because of a lack of intelligence or willingness to learn, but rather resulting from difficulty coping with a neurologic system that isn’t organizing and responding appropriately to a variety of sensory stimulation from the external world.

A well- organized sensory system is important for everything a child does, especially when it comes to maintaining focus and attention in the environment of a classroom. While the child with sensory integration difficulties can benefit from a sensory-smart classroom, so can every child. All children benefit from a calm, distraction free classroom where they can feel more in control, and in turn, improve their schoolwork and social skills.

The following is a compilation of sensory strategies for use in the classroom to promote the learning potential of every child, including those with sensory processing challenges:

Provide “Heavy Work” Opportunities:

Heavy work gives necessary input to the child’s body, helping him develop an improved body awareness and regulating his system. Allow the child to take responsibility in the classroom by completing specific “jobs.”

  • Carry books to the library, or to another teacher
  • Hand out papers to the class
  • Watering plants in the classroom
  • Push/pull heavy items in the classroom, i.e., chairs, boxes, class supplies
  • Erase the board
  • Empty wastebaskets or recycling

Seating Modifications:

Providing movement opportunities on the child’s seat, or at his desk is a great way to provide necessary sensory input many children crave, while also helping to increase their attention during stationary, table top tasks.

  • Tie a Theraband around the front legs of the child’s chair
  • Provide a wiggle seat to place on the chair surface
  • Allow time for “chair push-ups,” especially before seated writing tasks

Keep Those Hands Busy:

Many children with sensory processing challenges have a need for tactile input, resulting in constant touching of objects, and other classmates. For these kiddos, maintaining an optimal arousal level with regular (and non-distracting) tactile input is important.

  • Place a Velcro strip on, or inside of the child’s desk, or on the edge of his seat
  • Give the child a small bottle of lotion (with a calming scent, such as lavender) to place in his desk, or in his back pack, for those times when he needs to move his hands
  • Experiment with fidgets in a variety of forms: worry stone, paperclips, squeeze ball, necklace fidgets, bracelets, zipper pull fidgets, etc. (For some children, however, these items may be too distracting. If the object is decreasing attention, opt for the sensory input as noted above with Velcro placed on the desk itself.)

Movement Breaks:

All children need frequent breaks from work to get up and stretch and move their bodies. Frequent gross motor breaks help to “wake-up” the body and reset the brain, increasing arousal levels, resulting in improved attention and a calm body

  • Provide simplified yoga routines
  • Try jumping jacks, or marching around the classroom (or at the desk)
  • Try “animal walks,” such as bear walk, crab walk, or frog jumps
  • Recess time with active play including running, jumping and climbing

Reducing Visual and Auditory Stimulus:

For those children who become overwhelmed with too much visual input, or noise in the classroom, try the following strategies to help them maintain attention and focus.

  • Use low light, or natural light as much as possible versus fluorescent lighting
  • Provide a “quiet space” in one corner of the classroom where children can complete work with less distractions (adding beanbags to sit in this space would be a great addition as well)
  • Play quiet, rhythmic music
  • Eliminate clutter on bulletin boards
  • Place a curtain or sheet over open shelves containing games, art materials, toys that may be distracting

Snack Time:

Chewing, biting, or sucking on hard, crunchy items can be very regulating and calming for kids with sensory challenges.

  • Parents can pack chewy food items such as a bagel, or dried fruit to provide great oral proprioceptive input
  • Teachers may want to allow a water bottle with a thick straw to be kept at the desk (adding a little lemon to the water may help arousal levels as well)
  • Parents can pack a wide-mouth straw for eating items such as yogurt and applesauce
  • Provide crunchy fruit and veggie snacks such as apples, carrots and celery

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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