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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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Why Crossing Midline is Important for Development

As babies grow and develop certain milestones are often celebrated, such as rolling, sitting, crawling, and walking. As a pediatric occupational therapist, one of the milestones I always celebrate might not be visible to the untrained eye. Crossing midline, defined as the ability to reach across the body’s invisible midline with your arms or legs to perform tasks on the opposite side of the body, is a required skill for many higher level coordination activities. Blog Crossing Midline Main-Landscape

This skill typically develops around 18 months of age. Oftentimes when children are referred for occupational therapy due to poor fine motor skills, handwriting, or coordination, they are not crossing midline efficiently.

Some ways to observe whether or not your child is crossing midline efficiently include:

  • Watching to see if your child switches hands during drawing tasks. Do they switch from left hand to right hand to avoid their arm crossing over when drawing lines across paper?
  • Evaluating hand dominance: by age 6, children should have developed a hand dominance. Children with poor midline integration may not yet have developed a hand dominance.
  • Tracking an object across midline: this can be observed during reading, as decreased midline integration can lead to poor ocular motor skill development required for scanning.
  • Observing ball skills: children who are not yet crossing midline may have a difficult time crossing their dominant leg over their non-dominant leg to kick a ball forward.
  • Assessing self-care skills: putting on socks, shoes, and belts may be extremely difficult as these are activities that require one hand to cross over to assist the other in the process.

Children who have difficulty crossing midline may not be able to keep up with their peers, which may cause increased frustration during participation at school and in social situations. In addition, crossing midline is a required skill needed in order to complete more challenging bilateral coordination activities, such as cutting with scissors, using a fork and knife to cut food, tying shoe laces, writing out the alphabet, and engaging in sports.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

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10 Red Flags for Poor Sensory Registration

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

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

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

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

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

Touch (Tactile) Processing:

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

Auditory Processing:

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

Visual Processing:

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

Body Awareness (Proprioceptive Processing):

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

Movement/Gravitational (Vestibular) Processing:

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

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

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

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Why Are Occupational Therapy Screens Necessary for Schools?

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

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

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

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

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Age Appropriate Toys for Motor Development

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

Baby toys (birth-24 months):

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

Toddler Toys (3-5 years):

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

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

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

Adolescent games (10-15):

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

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to  help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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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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Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation Skills for My Child

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

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

Positive Engagement in School

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

Pro-social Skills

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

Healthy and Safe Choices

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

Communication and Coping Skills

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

How to Promote Executive Functioning and Self-Regulation skills

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

Resources:

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

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Picky Eater’s Guide to Thanksgiving

Ahhh, Thanksgiving. For some kids, it’s their favorite meal that comes just once a year! For others, they may dread the sticky mashed potatoes that get plopped on their plate or the smell of Aunt blog-picky-eater-main-landscapeCathy’s green bean casserole. Preparing your picky eater for this time of year might help you avoid the epic battle you fear is coming!

Here are 5 tips to help this time of year be fun and festive, not frustrating and frightful for a picky eater:

  1. Exposure!- Don’t let the Thanksgiving meal be the first time your picky eater sees all the new foods. Thanksgiving foods are not commonly seen throughout the year and can be overwhelming (in an already overwhelming situation!). In the weeks leading up to the big meal, try incorporate one or two Thanksgiving-type foods a week into your family meals or a snack time. Even if they don’t want to eat it, they can touch it, smell it, play with it and talk about it!
  2. Encourage your child to be your sous chef Incorporating your picky eater into cooking and creating the meals gives them a varied sensory experience. Even if it’s a food they’ve never had (or have tried and disliked), they get to see and feel the ingredients, use spoons and mixers to combine it all, and smell the final product, and feel accomplished for helping!
  3. Let your child choose something to make- Allowing your child to choose a menu item guarantees they will have something they like! Macaroni and cheese, or mozzarella stick appetizers, chocolate chip cookies, or homemade rolls may be some favorites.
  4. Bring sauce!- Sauces and dressings can be the key to kids eating new or less-preferred foods. Even if you’re not hosting, bring it with you. If they love barbecue sauce, put a small bowl next to their plate and let them add it to whatever they want!
  5. When in doubt…bring foods they like– If you’re going to someone’s house where you have little to no control as to what is served, you can always bring a few healthy foods you know your child likes. You can re-heat it when the other food is served, and explain to the host that they don’t even eat your cooking (so the host isn’t offended!). Just prepare for all of the kids at the kids table to be jealous!

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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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