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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!

Social Work

Making Back-to-School a Breeze with Classroom Sensory Strategies for Teachers

It’s that time of year again! Each new school year is an exciting time not only for students, but also for teachers! They have worked diligently all summer to prepare their classrooms in order to welcome their new students. Creating a learning environment to fit the needs of each unique student is a big task, but with an understanding of sensory processing and self-regulation and implementation of simple classroom strategies, back-to-school can be a breeze! Blog-Sensory-Classroom-Main-Landscape

What is Sensory Processing?

The classroom is a rich, sensory environment that enhances students’ development. For some students, however, their unique patterns of sensory processing may affect their ability to fully participate in activities. Sensory processing is the body’s ability to filter out important information that is taken in via many sensory pathways and utilize that information to provide appropriate responses within the environment. There may be some students who are over-responsive to input within the classroom, such as covering his or her ears when the fire alarm rings or avoiding art projects that include messy play. For other students, they may be under-responsive and seeking input within the classroom, such as difficulty sitting still at his or her desk and being too rough with peers or classroom materials.

What is Self-regulation?

Sensory processing has a profound impact on self-regulation, which is the ability to maintain an optimum level of arousal in order to participate in daily activities. Self-regulation is a critical component of learning, as it can impact a student’s attention, emotional regulation, and impulse control. Providing individualized sensory experiences increases self-regulation, attention, and overall participation.

Sensory Strategies to Increase Self-regulation Within the Classroom:

Auditory

  • Provide clear, precise, and short directions
  • Ask students to repeat directions back to you
  • Place felt pads or tennis balls on the bottom of chairs to decrease unexpected, loud noises
  • Use large rugs to absorb sound
  • Offer headphones, ear plugs, or calming music
  • Create a “cozy or quiet” corner

Visual

  • Minimize bright or florescent lights
  • Reduce “clutter” within the room, such as art projects or decorations on walls
  • Reduce the amount of words and pictures on worksheets
  • Provide directions on the student’s eye level to increase visual attention
  • Utilize visual schedules
  • Seat students near the front of the room or near you

Tactile

  • Incorporate messy play, including sand trays, finger paint, and shaving cream
  • Do squeezes with Play-doh
  • Utilize hand fidgets while seated at desk or circle time
  • Offer modifications to activities for over-responsive students

Proprioception/Vestibular

  • Incorporate heavy work into the daily routine. Heavy work is any resistive activity that provides deep pressure input to the muscles and joints which provides increased feedback about body position in space.
    • Wall or chair push-ups
    • Animal walks during transition times
  • Utilize sit-and-move cushion or therapy ball for seated work
  • Provide alternatives to sitting at a desk, such as standing to complete work
  • Implement group movement breaks
  • Assign classroom “helpers”
    • Carrying heavy items
    • Pushing in chairs
    • Picking up objects off the floor
    • Passing out papers

Remember, you know your students best! Get to know their individual characteristics and needs prior to implementing these strategies. Whenever possible, consult with an occupational therapist at your school! With the use of these simple strategies, your classroom will provide the best environment for all students to learn and grow!

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!

Meet-With-An-Occupational-Therapist

playdate and sensory needs

Play Date Tips for Children With Sensory Needs

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recognizes play as one of the most fundamentally important occupations in a child’s life. Through play, children are able to make better sense of their world, learn how to adapt to new and unfamiliar situations, and interact and socialize with their peers appropriately. As adults, it is important to provide children the “just right challenge” when preparing for a playdate, especially when a child has sensory needs which could impact their participation. Check out these 3 strategies for ideas on how to prepare for an upcoming play date.

3 Strategies For Play Dates When A Child Has Sensory Challenges:

  1. Load up with heavy work activities before the play date, which are helpful in modulatingSensory Strategies for Playdates arousal, increasing attention, and improving self-regulation. These activities may include jumping on the trampoline, swinging on a swing, laying over an exercise ball, or bouncing on a hippity-hop ball. For children who are sensory seeking, it is especially important to give their body a safe and therapeutic way to release excess energy, especially before they are expected to socialize with peers in organized and cooperative play.
  2. Meet your child where he is by offering a play experience he does not feel stressed about engaging in. For many children with sensory needs, it can be stressful to have to worry about socializing with peers. Providing opportunities that can facilitate parallel play (independent play within proximity to other children), associative play (interacting socially, without adhering to structured rules or game play), or cooperative play (organized activity) may help to bridge the gap between the social demands of the day and their level of comfort.  Activities such as puzzles, water toys, Legos, blocks, and trains can all be used in transitioning between individual play and cooperative play, allowing your child the opportunity to explore without becoming too overwhelmed or overstimulated.
  3. Play dates can be a perfect opportunity to get your child interested in multi-sensory activities. Often, when they see a peer engage in an activity, they are more likely to want to try it themselves. Setting up the environment with various opportunities to engage in sensory play, such as rice bins, baby pools, Lite Brite’s, dried pasta, finger paint, or a make-your-own slime center may also appeal to the sensory seeking kids who love to explore and get their hands messy.

If your child has difficulty participating in structured play, occupational therapy can help. Both play and social participation are two main occupations that foster growth in children. Occupational therapists are trained in providing skilled intervention to encourage a child to explore and engage in play activities that result in successful interactions within the community[1].

Is it Bad Behavior or SPD?


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!

Occupational Therapy Practice Framework: Domain and Process 2nd Edition. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, November/December 2008, Vol. 62, 625-683. doi:10.5014/ajot.62.6.625

sensory diets

Sensory Diets

A diet is defined as the food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health. A well-rounded nutritional diet promotes appropriate development and growth. In the same manner, the sensory system needs a proper “diet” of stimuli in order to process information, promote regulation, and promote efficient processing of sensory information. A sensory diet, a term coined by occupational therapist, Patricia Wilbarger, is a personally designed and individualized set of activities prescribed to an individual for regulatory and attention needs.

As an adult, you have most likely learned the activities you need in order to stay “organized”;  chewingSensory Diets gum during a conference to stay alert, listening to music to “unwind” after a long day, going for a run, etc. A child, especially one with sensory processing difficulties, sometimes needs to be taught these regulatory behaviors. Unwinding for a child could mean swinging, doing heavy proprioceptive work, or eating crunchy food.

Each child has a unique set of sensory needs. A child who always appears “on the go” would require a sensory diet full of calming and “grounding input”. A child who appears “tired/sluggish” would require a sensory diet full of alerting and arousing input.

A sensory diet can be created by an occupational therapist to be implemented in both the home and academic atmospheres. The good news is, as a sensory diet is fully incorporated into the daily routine; the short term effects of sensory input are immediate and cumulative to create long term lasting effects of regulation. As the sensory information is processed in the nervous system, the following positive results can be noticed:

  • Improved processing and understanding of sensory information
  • Increased attention and self-regulation
  • Encourage movement seeking behaviors in “tired/sluggish” children
  • Decrease non-purposeful movement seeking behaviors in “on the go” children
  • Ease difficulty in transitions and changes in routine, encouraging cognitive flexibility.

 

Is it Bad Behavior or SPD?

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!

 

Girl Day dreaming

Self-Regulation Strategies For Kids With ADHD

Symptoms related to ADHD can manifest differently from child to child. Redirecting hyperactive, impulsive, and/or inattentive behaviors can be achieved through following these strategies:

Engagement In Whole Body Listening

Educate your child that listening does not just include opening your ears to the sound of words, but that it in fact means that the entire body is calm, engaged, and focused. The child’s body should be directed toward the speaker or the task at hand, with feet still on the floor, hands still in their lap or on the desk, eyes looking at the task or person speaking, ears listening to the spoken content, and with their brain focused on the current material.

If your child is too hyperactive and is having trouble regaining whole body listening, encourage them to engage in muscle relaxation activities such as squeezing hands/fists/body into a ball tightly for 10 seconds and then releasing. They can do these reps about 5 times or until they are able to extinguish the extra energy causing them to become hyperactive.

On-topic vs. Off-topic Thinking

Help your child gain awareness about what their brain is processing. Chances are, if your child is thinking about Minecraft, a fun science experiment that he did in school, or what he will have for dinner that night, he is NOT listening to what you are saying. If your child appears inattentive, ask them what they are thinking about. If they reply in alignment with the message you have presented, they are using “on-topic” thinking which fosters enhanced focus/attention. If they reply that they were thinking about unrelated material, educate them that this is “off-topic” and they can shelve this idea until after their work is over or after the directive is completed.Girl Day dreaming

Stop-Sign Technique

Help your child reverse their acting and thinking processes. Impulsivity occurs at times when we are absently thinking and as a result, behave quickly. When we react before we think, we do not think about the potential ramifications of our actions and therefore can make poor choices. If you notice your child acting quickly and in the process of engaging in a non-preferred or unexpected behavior, shout out “stop” and/or hold your hand out to signal stop. Have your child cease whatever they were engaging in and have them evaluate the potential consequences if they continue doing what they are doing. Having the child assess the outcome of their action will help them reconfigure more compliant behaviors. You can help your child problem-solve in this process and model for them the appropriate steps for formulating the best choices through thinking before acting.

These strategies can be interactive and process-oriented between child and parent in the hope that the child can then internalize these strategies and autonomously utilize them. Don’t be afraid to help redirect your child, but also encourage them to utilize these skills independently.






How Does Occupational Therapy Help with ADHD?

It has been well documented that children with ADHD often struggle with maintaining focus in various areas of their day to day lives and consequently achieving their full potential. As Dr. Greg Stasi explains in his June blog, ADHD and Learning: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’s Impact on Learning, children with ADHD often exhibit impulsivity or hyperactivity, difficulty with following directions, and poor executive functioning skills. The impact of these difficulties can be extensive on a child’s success in school, relationships, and overall self esteem.

How does occupational therapy help a child with ADHD?

Occupational therapists often work with children to help them develop self-regulation and executive functioning skills. By teaching children strategies to address these challenging areas, we empower them to become more independent and self assured by targeting two important areas: Read more

Heavy Work Strategies for the Busy Family

Young Boy Holding a Pile of LaundryLife can get heavy from time to time and everyone gets stressed out. Unknowingly, many adults cope with said ‘stressors’ by incorporating various self-regulating strategies into their daily routines. They may take a deep breath or find their ‘zen’ in a yoga class. Some may take pleasure in the simplicity of sipping a warm cup of tea, while other more physical individuals resort to running a mile or two. Yet others prefer to lounge under a tree to read an enchanting romance novel. Children, like adults, need to have the ability to calm their bodies and self-regulate. One way for children to gather themselves in times of stress is by incorporating “heavy work” into their daily routine. ‘Heavy work’ activities provide deep proprioceptive input into a child’s muscles and joints, and thereby help them self-regulate in the same way that exercise may help an adult deal with stress.

Here are some examples of preparatory methods that can be incorporated into everyday life and used before a child encounters a stressful situation such as a loud birthday party, busy school day, or long car ride.

Heavy Work Activities To Provide Deep Proprioceptive Input For Children:

  • Help Mom: The completion of many chores can help incorporate ‘heavy work’ into a child’s daily routine. Examples include: carrying laundry, stirring recipes, pushing a grocery cart, or carrying shopping bags from the car.
  • Relay races and other forms of exercise are wonderful ways to build endurance and self-regulate. Examples include: wheelbarrow walks, froggy jumps, bear crawls, army crawls, crab walks, skipping, galloping, yoga, swimming, and gymnastics.
  • Play Outside: Take a walk and pull a wagon full of goodies, push a friend or sibling on the swing at the playground, build a
    sandcastle at the beach, or help around the house with yard work.
  • Rearranging Furniture: Pushing heavy chairs and couches provides deep proprioceptive input to the major joints and muscle groups of the body. You could put a fun spin on the activity and make a fort using furniture and blankets right in your living room!

‘Heavy work’ strategies can be incorporated into everyday life no matter the context or season. The use of these strategies may assist your child with more independence and self-soothing when they are feeling upset. This will also allow them to strengthen their muscles, increase their endurance, and may just help you cut back on the time spent completing housework chores. For other self-regulating ideas, please contact a NSPT occupational therapist.

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What Does my Child’s ‘Engine Level’ Refer to?

Many therapists use the term ‘Engine Level’ throughout your child’s therapy sessions, and possibly within her goals as well.  ‘Engine Level’ refers to your child’s energy level and the way her body is feeling in various environments and in various times throughout the day.  A child’s body is typically functioning at one of three ‘Engine Levels’.   Ideally, the goal is to be at the ‘just right’ level, in which your child can accomplish the most and focus on the task at hand.

Below are some explanations and examples of how your child’s engine level can be moving too fast, too slow, or just rightHappy child jumping

  • An engine level which is too fast means that you might notice rushing; distractibility; decreased body awareness; and decreased organization.  This might look like your child is running around aimlessly, touching her friends and neglecting personal space, or ignoring instructions and what her body should be doing.
  • An engine level which is too slow means that you might notice low energy and decreased endurance, inattention, and that your child is lethargic, sleepy, or unmotivated.  This might look like your child is slouching or falling out of her chair, propping herself up or leaning on a peer, not listening, or not attempting the task at hand.
  • An engine level which is just right means that you might notice that your child is refreshed and energized, that she is alert and ready to focus on the task at hand, and that she is aware of how her body is moving around her environment.  This might look like your child is maintaining an erect posture at the table to complete her homework or engage in mealtime, and she is correctly following directions and using her listening ears.

Try to use this ‘Engine Level’ lingo in a consistent manner so that your child can ideally develop increased body awareness and self-regulation.  Make sure you provide your child with examples of how your own body is feeling, or how you perceive her body to be feeling, so she can best understand what you are referring to (e.g. “It looks like your engine is moving too fast.  Your body keeps falling out of your chair.  Why don’t you stand-up and do 10 jumping jacks, and then try sitting in your chair again.”)  Stay tuned for my next blog on strategies to obtain a just right ‘Engine Level’.

Reference: Williams, Mary Sue and Shellenberger, Sherry. (1996,) “How Does Your Engine Run?”:  A Leader’s Guide to The Alert Program for Self-Regulation.  Therapy Works, Inc.

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