Tackling Haircuts with Sensory Sensitivities

Performing everyday tasks can be especially challenging for children with sensory sensitivities. Going to the grocery store, running errands, getting dressed, and using the restroom are just a short list of activities that may be particularly daunting for your child.BlogTacklingHaircuts-Main-Landscape

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I hear about the most challenging everyday tasks for children with sensory sensitivities and am asked to give suggestions on how to make these tasks achievable for children. One of the most common concerns I get from parents of a child with sensory sensitivities is a child’s inability to tolerate haircuts. This is often accompanied with words like: screaming, having a fit, and inability to remain seated. The good news is that there are things you can do to make this experience more tolerable for your child.

Here is a list of some suggestions I have given to families and that I recommend for others to try. Select items to use depending on your child’s level of sensitivity, age, and ability to follow directions.

6 Tips to Help Sensory Sensitivities with Haircuts

  1. Have your child engage in a lot of heavy work and deep pressure input the weeks leading up to his/her haircut. Heavy work includes: pushing and pulling items, jumping, performing animal walks, etc. If you aren’t familiar with heavy work, read this NSPT blog that includes some ideas for activities at home. You could also search “heavy work for sensory processing” on Google and you will find many ideas. This should be done for approximately 10-30 minutes a day, 1-2 times per day depending on your child’s age and level of sensory sensitivity. This will help “wake up” the tactile system in order to process sensation better.
  2. Write a social story with images of what the child should expect when getting his/her hair cut. This will be a step by step guide to getting a haircut. Go through each step such as arriving to the hair saloon, sitting in a chair, putting a cloth around the child’s neck, etc. Read this to your child often, going through each step of the process.
  3. Play pretend barber shop. Take turns with your child sitting in a chair, wrapping a cloth around each others neck, and pretending to cut each others hair with safety scissors. Do this saying that we are practicing for your hair cut on X day. Do this at least a few times before the child gets a haircut. When doing this, take special note of things your child may have difficulty with. For instance, if he or she has a difficult time remaining seated, experiment with some fidget toys such as a stress ball or having the child hold his/her favorite stuffed animal. Does your child respond well to use of a weighted blanket or weighted vest? If your child has a difficult time sitting still you may want to experiment with these items during play to see if it helps. Provide these same tools during the time your child gets a haircut. Time the child while he/she is seated during play and applaud them for any amount of time they are able to sit still (a visual timer is best). Build up to having the child remain seated for the approximate time the hair cut will take. Again, applaud them for any amount of time achieved!
  4. Make a sensory tool kit with your child that includes items that calm him/her. Bring this tool kit with you on the day of the haircut and practice using it while playing barber shop.
  5. Start playing with your child’s hair a few weeks before the hair cut. If your child can tolerate hair brushing, engage in play with his/her hair a few times per week. Spike it up and do another hair style that the child enjoys or comes up with. Have the child do this independently (after providing them with the tools) the first time (if possible) and see if they will let you do it the next time. This may be a slow process with you only being able to help slightly. Build up to you doing it without the child’s assistance. If the child cannot tolerate hair brushing, start with one brush with the hair brush, and move up to 2 the next day, 3 the following day, and so on.
  6. Go to the barber shop one time before the child gets his/her hair cut. Have the child meet the person who will be cutting their hair and ask if the child can look around the barber shop.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. 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 today!

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help your child learn to listen

Help Your Child Learn to Listen

If you spend a frequent amount of time with a young child, you know that one of the most common directions you find yourself saying is, “LISTEN!” Telling a child to listen seems like an easy enough request, right? When in actuality, listening is a skill that children have to develop and improve upon as they age.

When a child carries out a direction incorrectly there are many different factors that could be preventinglearn to listen his or her ability to be successful. Successful listening requires adequate attention and motivation to the current situation. If those components are not present, comprehension or retention of what is said will not be optimal. The best way to help a child be more successful is to teach them how to attend to what is being said. If your child is struggling to follow directions at home or at school, use the following four strategies to help them attend to the information that is being presented to him and her, which will ultimately help them become more skilled listeners and be more successful.

Strategies to help your child attend/listen:

  1. Look at the speaker – Make eye contact with the person who is talking.
  2. Quiet body – Keep your mouth, hands and feet quiet or still.
  3. Think about what is being said – Echo the directions in your mind or out loud. Repeating directions is a good strategy as it increases the retention of the presented information.
  4. Ask if you don’t understand – It’s important for children to develop self-advocacy skills and to feel confident when asking for clarification or extra help.

Use the visual aid to the right as a remainder for kids to use their listening strategies. This can be printed off and taped on his or her desk or hung on the refrigerator. The more the strategies are referenced, the more a child will become familiar with them and start to use them.

It is possible that there may be an underlying issue behind a child’s poor listening skills, such as language comprehension deficits, an auditory processing disorder or even an undiagnosed hearing loss. Consult with your child’s speech-language pathologist if a child continues to struggle with following directions or listening in the classroom.


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NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. 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 today!

5 Reasons Why Your Child Needs a Visual Schedule

What is a visual schedule?

A schedule consists of main activities to be completed during a particular timeframe. A visual schedule uses words or symbols (depending on your child’s level of literacy) to represent activities on his/her schedule.

Why should I use a schedule with my child?

When used consistently, a visual schedule has many potential benefits:

  1. Security and Behavior: Following a visual schedule increases the predictability of your child’s
    schedule-Portrait
    environment. Understanding what comes next, and when a particular event or activity is going to happen, increases your child’s feelings of security and helps them understand what is expected, as well as what to expect. Security and understanding of expectations, along with familiarity with a consistent schedule, may decrease behavior problems and increase engagement in the activity at hand. Increased engagement leads to increased attention and, therefore, learning.
  2. Independence: Knowledge of schedules increases independence. Visual schedules can be used to guide your child through through morning activities and routines. For example, if your child knows he/she eats breakfast then brushes his/her teeth (and understands what needs to happen to complete these routines – e.g., bring plate to the sink, then go to the bathroom, etc.), he/she is more likely to initiate these routines independently.
  3. Flexibility: Predictability allows children to more easily mentally prepare for changes in the regular schedule. If something outside the regular series of activities is going to happen, a visual schedule allows your child to mentally prepare for this change, making for increased flexibility (and smoother transitions to new activities).
  4. Receptive Language: Using a schedule increases your child’s immediate and overall understanding of linguistic concepts. For example, abstract time concepts (later, next, first, last, etc.) that are often difficult for children to understand or conceptualize are experienced firsthand, and can be visualized by looking at the schedule. Furthermore, using a visual schedule will help increase your child’s understanding of verbal directions, as it pairs visual cues with verbal directions, providing additional support to verbal direction.
  5. Pre-Literacy Skills: Using symbols and pairing them with words on your child’s visual schedule facilitates his/her understanding that symbols and words represent concepts. This is an important concept for future acquisition of literacy skills, as letters and words require an understanding of symbolism – pictures or graphemes represent concepts separate from themselves.

Try a visual schedule to help your child and see the impact it has!

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. 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 today!

Why saying no is a good thing

5 Reasons Saying “No” To Your Kids Is A Good Thing

Parents have a hard time saying no to their children because they want their child to be happy and to have positive experiences. They are concerned that if they say no, it will lead to unhappiness, defiance, a lack of creativity and a decreased sense of self-esteem in their child. Today, more than ever, it is important for parents to be comfortable with saying “no” to their children. Saying no without frustration/anger and following through with what you say let’s a child know that you care about them and that you want them to be safe. In other words, saying no is a good thing.

Here are five additional reasons why saying no to your child can be a good thing:Why saying no is a good thing

  1. Children want you to say no. They actually like structure and limit setting by parents and typically respond better to parents that can provide consistency and who hold them accountable for their actions.
  2. Saying “no” provides teachable moments. It allows your child to learn that they cannot always have what they want.
  3. It teaches children to delay gratification and to learn how to be patient.
  4. It teaches them to learn how to handle disappointment and helps them to learn how to work through disappointment through problem solving other solutions.
  5. It also teaches them how to respect their parents and other adults, as well as allows them to prepare for being in the “real world.”

Need help getting your child’s behavior under control? Click here to read a blog on 1-2-3 Magic Behavioral Principles!

mastering morning routines

Mastering Morning Routines

 

 

 

Many parents report the most anxiety prone time of the day is the weekday mornings. There is much going on in a very limited time. Parents often need to ensure that they are ready for work and have their children ready for school. This time of day is difficult for most children; however, children with attention problems or executive functioning weaknesses are much more prone to exhibit significant weakness with regard to their ability to follow routines and get out the door on time. Although it is difficult, it is not impossible for these children to be ready to go on time! Mastering the morning routine is the best way to get the family out the door, happily, each day.

Steps to Master the Morning Routine:

The main recommendation is to keep the mornings as structured and consistent as possible. Have the schedule planned and written out. Think about all daily routines from waking up, brushing teeth, getting dressed, to leaving the house. Think about not only the tasks that are expected of the child but also a reasonable amount of time to complete each task. It may come down to it that the list of expectations placed on the child’s morning is not realistic (today) and there might have to be some modifications.

Once it has been established that the tasks in the morning are reasonable, create a chart with picture cues for each task. Also, have the time expected for each task written down next to that item.

The first few days or weeks will require a significant amount of adult assistance to help ensure the child is finishing the tasks in the appropriate order within the required time allotments. Use strategies such as reinforcing completed tasks, timers, and praise.

Morning routines can be hectic but do not have to be impossible. With structure, organization support, and use of reinforcement, many children with attention concerns and executive functioning weaknesses are able to stay to the routine and get out the door in time.




teach your child to self-advocate

Teach Your Child to Self-Advocate

 

 

 

Self-advocacy skills are necessary for children to express their feelings and effectively get their needs met. In some situations, children refrain from speaking up to their peers for fear of being seen as aggressive and offending the other person. As a result, children may agree to situations that they don’t feel comfortable with (peer pressure), sustain engagement in non-preferred behaviors (trading their lunch when they would prefer not to), and run the risk for mood dysregulation over small, unrelated issues due to bottled up frustration from previously unresolved matters (getting disproportionately upset when asked by a parent to take out the trash or begin homework).

Practice these strategies with your child to improve self-advocacy, increase confidence in self, and effectively get their needs met:

Teach your child the difference between aggressive and assertive communication.

  • Aggressive communication encompasses both negative and hostile verbal/non-verbal cues. Often times, the message being conveyed gets lost in the delivery as the individual goes on the attack and uses a loud/mean tone.
  • Assertive communication is positive, pro-social, direct, and non-threatening. The message being delivered is not accusatory and the tone is firm and calm. Assertive communication provides a forum for expression of thoughts and needs and allows both parties to collaborate on an appropriate course of action.

Provide “time out” time or “off the clock” time to promote sharing of information without the threat of punishment or consequence to facilitate increased communication within the home.

Children may not speak their mind for fear of the aftermath. Allowing for 10-15 minutes a day where the child can process their thoughts, feelings, and needs can not only offer them the opportunity to practice self-advocacy, they are learning that it is ok to assert themselves and build confidence in their communication skills.

Read here for three tips for knowing when to intervene in your child’s relationships.







extra-curricular success for children with special needs

Ensure Extra-Curricular Success for Children with Special Needs

Often parents of children with special needs are worried and fearful about the ability of their child to succeed in extra-curricular activities such as sports, boy scouts, dance, art class, etc. Parents often fear the worst and are afraid of how the child will behave or act in such circumstances.  I would recommend that parents utilize several tips in order to help ensure success with each out-of-school activity, as these activities have many proven benefits for a child’s self-esteem.

Tips for Working with Coaches to Ensure Success for Children with Special Needs in Extra-Curricular Activities:

1. Be frank with the coach or director of the activity. Inform him or her about the child’s concerns. These are often individuals who volunteer to help children and more times than naught have the child’s best interest in mind.

2. Let the individual know what types of behaviors the child has exhibited in the past. What happened in school when parents were away, etc?

3. Create a list of accommodations that have proven to be beneficial for the child. Let the coach or instructor in on some of the modifications that have been helpful in the academic setting, as he may be able to apply the modification to the activity setting.

4. Be present, or within immediate reach, for the first few sessions.

5. Have the child go and see the building and room will the activity will occur. If possible, meet the instructor to form a relationship in advance.

Ultimately the main goal of after school activities is to increase socialization while teaching a skill, activity, or sport. The above tips should help provide some strategies to ensure the maximum success for children who have special needs in such situations.

the benefits of a visual schedule

The Benefits of a Visual Schedule for Home and School Success

Do you feel like a broken record when you ask your child to complete a simple task or standard routine? Whether you’re asking your child to fulfill her typical morning routine or planning ahead for the upcoming weekend, try using a visual schedule to outline your expectations.

The benefits of a visual schedule include the following:

Visual schedules make chores or tasks objective instead of subjective. When there is a neutral source promoting expectations for the child, it fosters enhanced independence in the child as well as takes the emotionality out of having to remind, repeat, and get frustrated with the child’s progress. Even though it would seem like second nature to complete standard morning time practices, the visual schedule outlines for the child what comes first, second, last, etc. and provides a checklist to move through. Some parents take pictures of their child completing these tasks (i.e. making their bed, brushing their teeth, packing their bag, eating breakfast) to make this a visually pleasing tool and increase child investment in the process.

Visual schedules make transitions easier. For younger children who thrive with structure and benefit from knowing what is on the agenda for the day, a simple visual schedule can aid in transitions and reduce anxiety about upcoming events. These schedules can be less formal and just require a simple sketch of what is to come. During lazy days or even days with little going on, visual schedules can help to structure unstructured time and provide a variety of outlets in a time-sensitive fashion. For example, on a relaxing Saturday create a schedule with your child that incorporates meal times and provides options for morning “art time” and afternoon “outdoors time”. These schedules create structure with pictures. Instead of writing out art time, draw with crayons, paints, or chalk. Meal time would be indicated with a picture of a sandwich and plate. Drawing these expectations out can facilitate independence for even young kids to stick to the routine and understand the structure through the use of symbols.

These visual schedule help bring structure and independence to all home and school routines.

For more help this school year, watch this Pediatric TV Episode on how to set up a homework station at home.







Girl leaving for college

Navigating College with Autism

More than ever before, higher numbers of teens with Autism are attending college.  Reasons for this increase are related to enhanced recognition of the condition (and therefore diagnosis) as well as greater access to early intervention services which we know creates better outcomes later in life.  Autism or not, the transition to college can be challenging.  Leaving home for the first time and adjusting to a completely new environment is nothing short of overwhelming.  Despite the expected challenges, students with Autism are finding success in college and beyond, with just a little extra attention to their needs.

The following tips will help this transition:

  1. Girl leaving for collegeWhen selecting a university, it is important to consider a number of criteria about the university itself, including: campus living options (single room or double), campus and student population size, class size, community supports, technology, transportation, and learning center resources.  Schedule a visit to see the campus and get your questions answered.  The right fit between a student and school can make all the difference.
  2. Develop life skills needed to live on campus: reading maps and navigating directions, accessing public transportation, managing money, doing laundry, organizing time, and making or purchasing healthy meals.
  3. Work with a tutor to help create a good study schedule and habits.
  4. Work with a counselor to help manage anxieties and depression, to provide encouragement in building social supports, and assistance in maintaining a balanced, healthy, and fun lifestyle.
  5. Know yourself and how to self-advocate.   For example, request that bright lights in your room be replaced, wear headphones to block out noise, avoid larger-class sizes, and do not overwhelm yourself with an excessively rigorous schedule.
  6. Ask for help.  Do not be afraid to reach out in times of need.  Rather, know your supports and use them.
Peer pressure

How To Deal With Peer Pressure

Strategies to teach your child to manage pressures within their peer group 

Being a child can be challenging as you deal with navigating choices about friends, social appropriateness, and ways to feel accepted. Children are confronted with a number of messages about the world through their parents, their friends, and the media and at times it can be tough coordinating choices that satisfy all three sources. How can we teach our children to manage social pressures that they know are incorrect or can elicit negative feedback or consequences?

1) Work with your child on creating value system. When a child knows their values and sets of expectations, it becomes clear what choices would align and what choices would counteract their value system. When we make choices in line with our value system, we feel good about our decisions and can anticipate positive feedback or praise. If we make decisions that go against our core values, we experience consequences or negative feedback. For instance, if it is within a child’s value system to treat others with respect, it might feel strange for them to follow a friend’s advice to talk back to a teacher.

2) Teach assertive communication. Children may feel uncomfortable communicating their needs effectively to their peers out of fear that they may be seen as aggressive or mean. Instead, assertive communication projects a firm boundary in a calm tone. Assertive communication looks like:

“Please stop, I do not like that.”

The message is clearly stated in a non-threatening and calm tone. It is expressing a need and should not risk an overtly, escalated response from a peer. If a child were to yell this message or say it in a mean tone, the message changes and can appear aggressive. As long as the child remains calm and reasserts their message, appropriate reactions from others will ensue. Encourage your child to practice assertive communication with you when they are not happy with a directive in lieu of yelling or experiencing a large, upset reaction.

3) Work with your child on identifying positive qualities that they look for in friends. In this conversation, help your child come up with at least 5 traits that are important in having a friend so as to separate those who do not fit this mold. This will help your child decipher between peers vs. friends and how to choose individuals to spend their time with who embody traits that make them feel comfortable.