Traveling with Kids with Autism

Travel Tips for Children with Autism

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and for many people the holidays involve some type of travel. When traveling with a child with autism it is very important to plan ahead and be well prepared for the trip. One of the best ways to begin preparing is to identify the triggers for your child which lead to meltdowns, and come up with strategies on how to handle or avoid these meltdowns. It is also important to think ahead and consider the various scenarios which could occur, and make sure you are prepared to handle those situations. Of course, traveling can be very unpredictable, but if you are well prepared for a variety of different situations, your trip should be a relatively smooth one.Traveling with Kids with Autism

Travel Tips for Children with Autism

  • Create of visual schedule of activities for the travel day(s). Review the schedule in the weeks leading up to the travel day and then on the day of travel – Many children with autism do well with structure and knowing what to expect. When making the schedule, avoid making it too detailed (i.e., with specific times of each activity) since travel plans can sometimes change unexpectedly at the last minute. So, keep the schedule simple (i.e., drive to airport, fly on plane, drive to Grandma’s house).
  • Create a vacation calendar – This calendar can begin as far as a month before your trip. You can cross off the days leading up to your trip. The calendar can also include the days you will be away and the day you will return home.
  • Practice sitting for long periods of time – Regardless of the mode of transportation that will be used, there is a good chance you will be sitting for an extended period of time. Take practice runs in the car and reinforce good sitting behaviors. It can also be helpful to use portable DVD players and/or IPads to help during longer trips.
  • When traveling by plane:
    • Watch videos of airplanes taking off and landing and if time allows, take a trip to the airport to watch airplanes in person.
    • Use headphones to drown out any loud noises at the airport or on the airplane.
    • If possible, book a direct flight to avoid the process of switching planes.
    • Contact the airport and airline to see if they have any special accommodations for children with special needs.
      • Some airports and airlines have programs in place that allow practice runs through the airport, and even allow you to go onto the airplane itself familiarize your child with the airport and an airplane.
    • Bring chewy candy or gum to help with the change in cabin pressure which cause your ears to pop.
    • Airports are very busy and crowded, especially during the holidays. If your child has trouble in loud and/or crowded places, begin taking them to crowded places (i.e., a mall) to help de-sensitize them to crowds and loud environments.
  • Pack a bag with all essential items – This bag should include a variety of snacks, favorite books, toys, games, sensory items (i.e., chewy tubes, weighted blankets, etc.), headphones, IPad, and any other favorite or reinforcing items from home.







sensory strategies for a happy holiday season

Sensory Strategies for a Happy Holiday Season

Melodious songs fill your rooms, the aroma of scented candles waft through the hallways, oven timers ding from the kitchen and everyone feels a bit overwhelmed by all the preparations being completed in every nook of the house! The holiday season brings joy, excitement and family time. It also brings with it enough sensory stimulation to last you until next December! Whether it be tactile, olfactory or auditory stimulation, the holidays bring with them a copious amount of sensory information. Holidays can be a tough time for children who have sensory processing difficulties. Just remember, like any other time of the year, there are strategies to help with sensory sensitivities during the holidays.

Prepare your child for a holiday party and other family get-togethers with these sensory strategies:

  1. Create a visual schedule. Include the big details of the event, including dressing up for the get together, thesensory strategies for a happy holiday season commute to the event, expected activities and the friends/family that your child will get a chance to play with. A visual schedule is a great way to prepare your child for the types of sensory experiences they are about to have.
  2. Upon arrival to your holiday destination, help orient your child to the new space. Take a little tour of the venue, pointing out the bathroom, a quiet room and a play space. If you are familiar with the venue prior to arrival, make a map of the space and have your child put their favorite stickers on the areas that seem safe!
  3. If your child is has auditory sensitivities provide him with head phones or ear plugs to help dampen the sounds in his environment.
  4. Holiday parties provide adults with a bountiful feast but can leave children with squeamish looks on their faces. Encourage your child to try something new if the opportunity exists; but if the textures and smells seem overwhelming, have her preferred snacks hiding in your purse.
  5. If your child has tactile sensitivities to clothing, allow them to be comfortable. The holidays can be the time to bring out your best party attire, but that doesn’t mean your child needs a skirt filled with tulle or a bow tie. Allow your child to choose his holiday outfit based on preferences and tolerable textures. Those casual clothes may raise eyebrows, but that’s nothing to worry about as long as you know your child feels safe!
  6. If your child is movement-seeking, encourage a movement break as needed. Use gross motor activities like jumping jacks, dancing or toe touches!
  7. Holiday parties can be filled with the smells of candles, cooking and other guests’ perfumes. Allow your child to bring a comforting object from home, whether it be a familiar blanket or stuffed animal that has the scent of home and provides a sense of safety.

Remember that the holidays are a time for fun, for you and your children! Making the environment more sensory-friendly can enhance your child’s fun and create positive and lasting memories!






fabulous fall crafts for families

Fabulous Fall Crafts for the Family

 

 

 

The shorter days and cooler nights mean fall is here!  Get into the spirit of the season with these fun fall crafts.

Fabulous Fall Crafts for the Family:

Autumn Wreath—TP (toilet paper) Style

Materials:

  • Wire coat hanger
  • 14 to 16 toilet paper rolls
  • Construction paper red, orange and/or yellow (fall colors)
  • Optional: Neutral color paint like brown, yellow, or black
  • String
  • Glue or tape
  • Scissors

Directions:

  1. Take each toilet paper roll and cut a slit HALFWAY through.
  2. Optional Step: If you decide to paint the rolls, do this after you cut a slit and let them dry.
  3. Bend the coat hanger to form a circle. The diameter of the completed wreath is about 15 inches.
  4. Using the slits cut halfway through the rolls, slide each of your toilet paper rolls onto the hanger to form a big circle of toilet paper rolls.
  5. Tape the toilet paper rolls together on the inside of the circle together.
  6. Cut out many, many leaf shapes from the construction paper.
  7. Optional step: children can also do “leaf rubbings” to make leaves.  To do a leaf rubbing:
  • Collect leaves from outside and place them bumpy side up on a flat surface.
  • Put a piece of white paper on top of leaves
  • Unwrap some crayons and rub over the leaf to make your rubbing.
  • Cut those rubbings out

To finish, glue the cut out leaves onto the toilet paper roll.  Tie a string at the top of the wire hanger and hang up!

Autumn Vase with flowers

Materials:

  • Juice jar (750 ml)
  • Paper mache paste (1 part flour to 5 parts water… boil about 3 minutes and let cool)
  • Strips of white paper
  • Paint or markers to decorate
  • Tissue paper (fall colors: orange, red, yellow, brown AND white for center of flower)
  • Drinking straws
  • Cotton balls
  • Scissors
  • Scotch tape
  • Glue

Directions:

For the vase:

  1. Paper mache the jar by dipping white strips of paper into paste. Use 3 layers to cover jar.
  2. Let jar dry for a full day
  3. Decorate the jar with paint or markers.

For the flower:

  1. Cut a square of tissue paper about 2″ by 2″.
  2. Place a ¼ of a cotton ball in the center of tissue square.
  3. Connect the cotton filled tissue paper to the end of the straw and wrap a piece of scotch tape around it to hold in place.
  4. Cut out petals from the colored tissue paper. Place 4 or 5 petals around the cotton filled tissue paper by either taping or gluing.
  5. Add at 3-4 rows of petals by layering them on top of each other until you have a nice full flower.

Marbled Salt Dough Leaves

Materials:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 cup warm water
  • Yarn/string
  • Leaf cookie cutter or template to cut shape out of dough
  • Mod podge (optional)
  • Rolling pin
  • Powdered Tempera paint (fall colors)
  • Drinking straw
  • Cookie sheet

To Make Dough: (you may want to double the recipe if there is more than one child)

  1. Combine your dry ingredients of flour and salt.
  2. Slowly add water, mixing until you have a dough-like consistency.
  3. Divide the dough into 3-4 even clumps
  4. Add powdered tempera paint (a few teaspoons until desired shade of color is reached) to each clump.

To Create Leaves:

  • Roll out colored clumps so they are about a ½ inch thick
  • Use cookie cutters or cut out your own leaf shape from the dough
  • Use a drinking straw to poke a hole in each leaf
  • Bake for about an hour at 200 degrees…remove from oven if they are turning brown!
  • Continue to let the leaves dry overnight
  • Optional: use Mod Podge to paint over leaves for a glossy finish!
  • Attach string to the hole and hang!

Arts and crafts are more than just fun.  Read here for 5 developmental benefits of arts and crafts!

Travel Tips For Kids With SPD

Seat belts, exit doors, floor path lighting, oxygen masks, life vests, preparation for takeoff, and in-flight rules such as no smoking, follow the directions of the crew, and the appropriate use of the lavatory are all included in the flight attendants’ cadence preceding take-off. While these safety speeches vary slightly between airlines, one commonality rings true for many parents: Instructions are not given for how best to support children who have difficulty processing sensory information.  Below are 5 ways to ease your travels the next time you and your family fly on an airplane.

Discuss what to expect

Discuss the trip in detail in the days and weeks preceding your trip. What will the airport look like? Will there be a lot of people? What are the behavioral expectations for your child? What is the process for checking luggage, the security line, and waiting to board the plane? Then, what will the inside of the airplane look and sound like? How long is the flight? Where will your child sit and who will be seated beside them? How will the flight attendants prepare the aircraft for take-off? What will it feel like when the airplane leaves the ground? What might happen in your child’s ears? What are the rules while you are in-flight? Then, what will it feel like to land? What is the process for getting off the airplane and collecting your baggage?  While some of this information may seem trivial to frequent flyers, for children, especially those with difficulty processing sensory information, the more detail you can discuss before the big event occurs, the easier it will be for them to prepare themselves for the experience. One way to discuss the process of flying on an airplane is to write a short book, inserting your own family as the main characters. Parents can write the storyline of the book, including answers to the questions above, while their kids can create personalized illustrations using markers, crayons, stamps and stickers. Read your family’s travel story every night before bedtime to help your child prepare for the big day. You can even bring the book along to the airport to follow along with the storyline as you progress through your trip.

Decrease the amount of extraneous and unfamiliar noise

Use noise cancelling headphones or calming music. Both strategies can help your child to self-regulate and more effectively process auditory sensory information.

Prepare a backpack of “travel essentials”

Many adults pack a small carry-on bag with a few items that will help them pass the time during the flight. Items often include shoulder pillows, eye masks, ear phones and ipods; as well as a favorite book or magazine. For children with various sensory processing disorders, items to include:

      1. Snacks and water. Gum or hard candies (if your child is old enough) may be good options to help your child pop their ears during flight.
      2. Pack a heavy object to help your child regulate. A book or weighted blanket are great options.
      3. Bring a comfort object such as a blanket or favorite stuffed animal.
      4. Include fun activities such as mini board games, coloring pages, books, or playing cards

Call the airline ahead of time

Explain your child’s sensory needs. Certain airlines have special accommodations for children including the opportunity to board the plane early to get situated in your seats before other passengers.

Expect some ornery fellow passengers

While it is unfortunate, you may come across at least one person on your flight who has a lower tolerance for kids being kids. Prepare yourself for an eye-roll or a muttered complaint hidden under your neighbor’s breath. Depending on your comfort level you could write out small note cards explaining that your child has a Sensory Processing Disorder and that they are doing the best they can to get through the flight. You could even offer nearby passengers earplugs to help block out any extraneous noises.

The bottom line is that while traveling with children who have sensory processing disorders can be stressful, with foresight and appropriate preparation it can be done and can even prove to be a fun experience. The most important part of travelling is creating warm and lasting memories with your friends and family. Try your best be prepared for the flight but remember not to sweat the small stuff- after all, you’re on vacation! Safe travels!


 

5 Ways to Improve Fine Motor Skills with Valentines

It’s that special time of the year again. Bags of candy and cards adorned with hearts and kind messages line the aisles of our local grocery and convenient stores. Our kids wait with great anticipation for their classroom Valentine’s Day parties when they are allowed to pass out and receive cards; play games, and eat delicious sugar-filled treats. While this time of the year can be difficulty to enjoy as we’re trudging through the snow covered streets, try to take time to enjoy the season and help your child to spruce up her fine motor skills!

5 ways to turn Valentine’s Day into a platform for improving fine motor skills:

  1. Cutting: This year, instead of buying pre-made cards from the grocery store, help your children cut their own cards from their favorite colored construction paper. For the younger kids, cutting straight lines for a square or cutting across a piece of paper to create smaller squares is the first place to start. For kiddos who are older (4 ½- 6), try to encourage them to cut simple shapes including circles or hearts. If your child is up for the challenge, encourage her to cut out the shape using a hole-puncher. The resistance that the hole puncher provides and repetitive motion to cut the entire shape will surely improve your child’s hand strength. Cutting is an excellent way to improve hand strength, bilateral coordination, visual motor skills, and fine motor planning.
  2. Writing Name: Making Valentines cards is an excellent way for your child to practice writing her name. Practice and repetition is key in building new foundational skills. What a better way to provide repetition than asking your child to sign a card for all of her classmates? If a child needs more help, try to show her how you would write her name, letter by letter, on a separate piece of paper. In your child’s handwriting skills are advanced, encourage her to write a short message to her best friends. The more she practices, the better her handwriting will become!
  3. Gluing: Gluing is another way to promote fine motor skills and hand strength. If your child chooses to use a glue stick, encourage her to use her dominant hand with the same grasp pattern that she uses for writing and coloring activities with her pencils and markers.
  4. Stickers and Stamps: Placing stickers on cards can also help your child to improve her fine motor control. Bending and manipulating a sheet in order to peel the desired sticker from the page and manipulating the sticker to place it on her Valentine takes a lot of patience, bilateral coordination, and fine motor planning.
  5. Folding: Folding is a very challenging activity for a lot of kiddos. Practicing manipulating paper so that the sides match up while folding and stabilizing the two ends together to create a crease in the middle of the paper requires a lot of visual and fine motor planning.

Valentine’s Day, as with many other holidays, affords children an opportunity to practice their fine motor skills. There should not be any limits to their creativity in making cards for their friends. Encourage them to practice new and emerging fine motor skills this season as they’re creating their cards!

How to Make Building a Snowman into a Speech and Language Activity

Winter 2013-2014 has arrived and it has not been afraid to show us who’s boss this year. Snow, wind, ice, and frigid temps have alreadyhow to make building a snowman a speech and language activity graced us with their presence and getting outside is not always enjoyable. While some of us are not exactly fond of the snow, the kids love it! Building a snowman is a great way to enjoy the snow with them while targeting some speech and language goals such as sequencing, categorizing, and basic concepts.

Sequencing

Before going out into the arctic tundra that is Chicago, you can print off this worksheet to talk through, or sequence, the steps of building a snowman.

  • Cut out the pictures and put them in the correct sequence in front of your child. Have him verbalize a sentence or two about the pictures. For example, “First, you roll a big snowball.” You can also give your child verbal models for extra support as needed. Read more

The Hidden Benefits of Sledding

Looking for fun winter activities to do with the kids this season? Sledding is one of the easiest snow-day experiences to learn, especiallythe hidden benefits of sledding for young children. With minimal equipment required, there are numerous fitness benefits of sledding. So find the closest hilltop and take that toboggan or flying saucer for a spin!

Find the right hill:

Look for snow-covered hills right outside your home and in your neighborhood parks. Make sure the hills are easy to climb back up, without rocks, trees, or other obstructions that might make the downhill ride dangerous.  In the city, make sure you stay clear of roads or areas with cars. Read more

Holiday Tongue Twisters

Christmas is almost here! With the hectic holiday schedule, here are some festive tongue twisters to try with your kids!Holiday Tongue Twisters

 Christmas Tongue Twisters:

  • Santa stacked six singing snowmen in his sleigh.
  • Mrs. Claus counted carolers on Christmas.
  • Don’t drop the dreidel down, Danny!
  • Tiny Tim trimmed the tall tree with tinsel.
  • The thermometer thawed to thirty degrees on Thursday!
  • Comet caught a cold on Christmas!
  • Harry hung holly on the hearth for the holidays.
  • Rudolph ran around wearing a red ribbon.
Can you say them 5x fast?  Merry Christmas from North Shore Pediatric Therapy!

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Important Communication Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday Season

With Thanksgiving under our belts, holiday season 2013 is well under way. As we begin to pack for adventures across the country or plan for the arrival of house guests, it is crucial to recognize your expectations for the holidays and identify helpful communication strategies to make time with family the ideal picture of perfection.  Read on for communication tips to enjoy the holidays more fully and and to enhance family relations.

Communication Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday Season:

1. Recognize your expectations.

We all have our ideas of the most picture-perfect holiday: imagine kids playing nicely by the fire place while mom, dad, and in-laws sip hot chocolate and bask in the peace and serenity present in the household. It is not to say that this can’t happen, but it is important to recognize that this may only be YOUR expectation. Honing in on what you want and asking your in-laws prior to their visit about what THEY want will be critical in feeling satisfied with your holiday. Read more

Holiday Toy-Gifting Guide to Promote Gross Motor Skills

It’s the holiday season yet again. In this time of family, friends, foods, and traditions, many little minds are thinking about new toys.   This is the perfect opportunity for parents and family members to stock up on games and toys to facilitate their children’s development.  While some older children might have wish-lists to be fulfilled, there are plenty of toys outside of the latest trend that will help promote growth in children of all ages. As any therapist knows, a toy can be a powerful tool to promote developmental gains, particularly in children who are a little behind their peers.  Below are some toys that help kids strengthen their big muscle groups and attain gross motor skills, without making play seem like work.

Learning Tables

A learning table is a great investment if you have an infant. It will grow alongside your baby and help her attain valuable gross motor skills such as body control in tummy time, cross-body reaching, independent sitting, cruising, standing, and weight-shifting, all while promoting her upper body and cognitive growth.  Early learners can keep busy with the lights, sounds, and activities; the height of the tables adjusts so that babies from 6 to 36 months can play in various positions. Babies will be challenged throughout each step of their development and learn about cause and effect. Read more