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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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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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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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5 Possible Autism Red Flags for Preschoolers

Autism spectrum disorder is a diagnosis that can affect each child differently, meaning there is not one specific trait that sets people with this diagnosis apart from others. Symptoms can rangeblog-autism-red-flags-main-landscape from mild to severe, but frequently symptoms such as problems with social interactions, difficulties with communication and repetitive/stereotypical behavior are seen with an autism diagnosis. Although symptoms vary from child to child, here is a list of 5 possible red flags of autism for preschoolers. Note: This list is not all-inclusive as symptoms vary between children.

1.) Limited Eye Contact and/or Want to be Alone

During preschool years (3-5 years old), children are exploring their environment and interacting with those around them. These interactions help them develop an understanding of the world, as well as develop important relationships with others. A red flag would be if a child has limited eye contact with peers and/or adults, especially when their name is called or during times of play/activities with others.

If a child tends to play alone, even though there are peers around to engage with, this could also be a red flag. These children could be engaging in a toy or activity with another peer nearby, but do not attempt to interact with the other peer even if the peer attempts to do so. At this age, children should start showing an interest in what their peers are doing and begin to interact with them both during organized (e.g., planned activities) and unstructured activities (e.g., free play).

2.) Delay in Speech and Language Skills and/or Repetitive Speech

Speech and language milestones are reached at different times for each child, but most, at this age, should be using four or more words in a sentence, follow three-step directions (e.g., find your chair, sit down, and wait for your friends), answer more complicated “WH” (e.g. who, what, where, etc.) questions and start to recognize letters and numbers. Red flags would be if they are unable to do the above, if familiar and/or unfamiliar people cannot understand what the child is saying and child does not ask or answer simple questions.

Repetitive speech could be defined as repeating the same words (eg., clap, clap, clap!) or phrases (e.g., How are you? How are you?) over and over which can also be known as echolalia. The repeated words might be said right away or at a later time. Most children do go through this stage, but repeating words or phrases should stop by the time they are 3.

3.) Become Upset with Minor Changes

Although many children can, at times, struggle with changes in routine, children with autism can become extremely upset when changes occur, especially unexpectedly. This may be seen during transition times between activities, clean up time, or when they are asked to do something. Some behaviors that may occur when changes in routine happen include exhibiting withdrawal, repetitive behaviors, tantrums, or even aggression.

4.) Stimming and/or Obsessive Interests

Stimming can be defined as stereotypy or self-stimulatory behavior, which can appear as repetitive body movements and/or repetitive movement of objects. Stimming can involve one or all senses, but some examples could be flapping their hands, rocking their body, spinning in circles or spinning objects. Obsessive interests could be routines or interests that the child develops that may seem unusual or unnecessary. Some example of common obsessive interests could include only wanting to talk about and play with computers, trains, historical dates or events, science, or particular TV shows, etc.

5.) Sensory Sensitivity

Children with autism may have a dysfunctional sensory system in which one or more of their senses are either over or under reactive to sensory stimulation. This sensitivity could be the cause of stimming behaviors exhibited. Some possible red flags that could be seen in preschoolers could be unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel. For example, during sensory play (e.g., sand, play-doh, shaving cream, etc.) a child that does not like to get their hands dirty and would prefer to continually wipe, wash them off or avoid sensory projects all together, could be a possible red flag.

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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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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Sensory at the Pool | Facebook Live Video

Sensory At The Pool dove in to the world of a child’s sensory integration at a pool. Watch as one of our expert Occupational Therapists covered red flags, provided examples of what a child may experience (ex. walking across the cold, wet tile of a locker room floor) and shared some tips and tricks to helping your kiddo cope and make the best of summer!

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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Make the Summer Olympics Come to Life in Your Own Home

With the Summer Olympics just days away, what could be a better time to engage your kids in fun Summer Olympicsactivities to promote physical activity, social interaction, a healthy lifestyle, and improve their overall development? Many kids dream of becoming a gold-medalist in the Olympics and with these activities, you can make your child feel as if they are standing on top of that podium while assisting in their skill development without them even realizing it! There are endless opportunities to promote your child’s well-being. Be creative! Below are a list of easy-to-do Olympic related activities to get you started:

Focus on Fine, Visual, and Gross Motor Skills:

Table time activities

  • Print off Summer Olympic word searches, mazes, and coloring pages.
  • Create the Olympic rings (Cut strips of paper, form them in to circles, and connect them).
  • Olympic torch craft (create an Olympic torch using a paper towel roll, covering it with tin foil, and cutting/taping flames to the roll using red, orange, and yellow tissue paper).
  • Origami Olympic Rings (http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/origami-olympic-rings)
  • Create gold, silver, and bronze medals using paper, clay, tin foil, or paper plates. Then connect them to a string or ribbon to wear during your Olympic games.
  • Write about a favorite sport, Olympian, or your child’s Olympic dream.

Play Sports and Competitive Activities:

  • Basketball, swimming, running, simple gymnastics tricks, volleyball, soccer, hockey, mini-golf, etc.
  • Water balloon toss or ring toss
  • Races (three legged races, sack races, spoon, or relay races)
  • Obstacle course
  • Throwing a ball through a hoop or at a target,
  • Create a long/high jump

Focus on Social-emotional Skills:

  • Model good sportsmanship- Play the Olympic games with family and friends. This gives you the opportunity to model good sportsmanship when losing, working as a team, and how to support/encourage others for your child.
  • Promote social interaction with others, sharing, and taking turns – these are all important for building friendships and play skills.
  • Use positive self-talk– “I can do it,” “I will try my best,” “The more I practice, the better I will get.” Promoting positive self-talk will help improve self-confidence, increase positive thoughts, and will help improve performance during tasks.
  • Create rules for the games to teach direction following and playing fair with others.
  • Celebrate differences– the Olympics are a time of celebration, unity, and peace. Take this time to teach your child about different cultures and countries from around the world and that we accept our differences and treat everyone equally.
  • Promote friendly competition– While playing games, time your child and see how fast they can complete the game. Then see if your child can beat their score every trial. This will promote focus, improve overall attention, and assist in friendly competition with themselves or others.
  • Identify feelings of others– Find pictures of athletes in the Olympics on the internet or in magazines which portray emotions on the athletes faces and ask your kids how they think the athletes are feeling.

Focus on Sensory Processing:

  • Tactile input
    • Create the Olympic rings with finger paint- have the child create a circle with their thumb and index finger and with a paint brush, paint their hand. Then print on to the paper and repeat with the next color (this is a great tactile play activity for the tactile defensive child)
    • Bake cookies and decorate them to look like the Olympic rings, medals, basketballs, etc. Have your child mix the dough with their hands and decorate with frosting, sprinkles, or candies. This way your child is engaging with all different textures.
  • Proprioceptive input with heavy work– Have races, whether it be while pushing a laundry basket, running around a track outside, or animal walk races (these are great activities to help regulate the sensory seeking child or increase arousal levels)
  • Oral and tactile input-Engage with and try different foods from different countries and cultures from around the world- maybe your picky eater will try something you never though they would!

Focus on Speech and Language:

  • Incorporate your child’s target sounds in the context of the Olympics. For example, if your child is working on his or her “L” sound, have them practice saying: Summer Olympics, medal, or basketball.
  • Improve expressive language by describing/explaining as well as answering open ended questions, you can ask you child some of these questions:
    1. How hard do you think the athletes work to be able to compete in the Summer Olympics?
    2. How do you think the athletes feel on the day when they will be competing in the Olympics?
    3. What types of things would you do on that big day to prepare?
    4. How do you think an athlete would feel if they took last place in the Olympic Games?
    5. If you were going to compete in the Summer Olympics, which sport would you chose and why?

Make it even more fun by making a whole day out of it and creating your own Olympic Games! Create an athlete registration table, make teams, dress up, and don’t forget the award ceremonies. Enjoy and may the odds be ever in your favor!

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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