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Be Prepared for Winter Break

The holidays can be magical and peaceful, but it can also mean kids home from school on winter break, schedules thrown off, and too much candy! We’ve put together a few tips to help you enjoy this special time of year with the family:

The benefit of old-fashioned toys

According to NBC news, old-fashioned toys are some of the most educational and worthwhile gifts you can give kids this holiday season. Toys like wooden blocks require kids to interact, imagine, and problem solve in ways that even an educational game on the iPad cannot achieve.

In order to express creativity, kids should move their actual bodies and have a tangible way to express their creativity. So when grandparents or friends are asking what to buy your kids this holiday, try suggesting a good old fashioned game. It does not have to be expensive or fancy to be effective.

Tis the season to be flexible

The holidays are packed with parties and obligations, but be careful not to put difficult demands on yourself. If you need to come late or leave early, do what you need to do. A little flexibility will go a long way. Holiday photos are nice too, but not if it means a battle over clothes. Let your child dress in what is most comfortable for them and everyone will be more relaxed.

Try a local transit museum

The New York Transit Museum staff noticed that their most enthusiastic visitors were boys on the spectrum, a phenomenon seen at similar museums around the globe. For an activity the whole family may enjoy, try a local transit museum or even simply a ride on the subway or train, stop have a snack, and make your way back.

Set aside time for self-care

You know that whole put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others thing? There’s a reason for that. If you and your partner are burned out, everything this month will just be that much harder. Drop the kids off with a trusted relative or experienced sitter and sneak away for a glass of wine, a movie, dinner date or simply enjoy a quiet morning in the house alone.

Sensory activities for snow days

Every child needs sensory input to stay focused, regulated, and organized throughout the day, especially children who have sensory processing challenges. If the weather is frightful, these make for some great tactile/messy play indoor activities for a child with tactile processing challenges:

  • Play-doh/theraputty
  • Finger painting
  • Shaving cream
  • Create sensory bins of rice, beans, sand, noodles, etc.
  • Cooking/baking (allow the child to mix with their hands to explore new textures)

Check out our other winter blogs for additional ideas and tips!

Explaining Your Child’s Behaviors in Response to Sensory Input

The way children take in and respond to sensory input from the environment may vary from child-to-child and day-to-day. It’s important to take into consideration that how children’s senses pick up information from the environment may influence their reactions and behaviors. Children might have a harder time taking in and processing sensory input to respond appropriately within the environment. Blog-Sensory Input-Main-Landscape

Below are several ways you can explain these sensory input reactions and behaviors to family, friends, and community members:

Auditory Input: Some children are sensitive to sounds (e.g. hand dryers; toilet flush; alarms). You might see these children cover their ears to certain sounds. Other children may not be as aware to sounds. You might see these children not respond to their name being called.

Visual Input: There are children who may demonstrate sensitivity to light by covering their eyes from bright sunlight or they may express discomfort by florescent lights. Other children might seek visual input by being visually attracted to TV/computer screens with fast-paced and/or flashy visual effects.

Tactile Input: Children may demonstrate sensitivity to certain textured clothing and resist/avoid wearing them (e.g. jeans; cotton materials; tags on clothing; tight socks). There are children who have a difficult time being in close proximity to other people. These children may feel overwhelmed and demonstrate over reactive behaviors when touched/bumped into (e.g. in crowded places; in line).

Oral Input: Some children might present sensitivity to specific textures or taste of food and avoid eating them (e.g. mushy/crunchy/chewy foods; sweet/sour foods; foods mixed together). Others might seek oral input to the mouth and put everything in their mouth (e.g. toys; finger; clothing).

Vestibular/Proprioceptive Input: Children might be hesitant and present distress when their feet are not on the ground or when they are spun in a circle. These children might avoid swings, climbing on the playground, riding a bike, or car rides. There are children who seek out a lot of movement and take climbing/jumping risks. You might also see children spin in circles to obtain additional vestibular input.

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

Meet-With-An-Occupational-Therapist

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.

 Meet-With-An-Occupational-Therapist

5 tips to get your child with autism to sleep

5 Helpful Hints to Get Your Child with Autism to Sleep

Children with developmental disabilities and autism are at greater risk of sleep problems (40-80% in comparison to 20% of children without developmental disabilities).  Problems can include all aspects of the sleep process, including trouble falling asleep when needed, waking frequently throughout the night, and waking early in the morning hours.  Given what we know about how sleep impacts our attention, emotional regulation, and socialization, it is that much more imperative that we help our children with developmental disabilities be well rested.

Why do children with developmental disabilities have more problems with sleep?

While speculative at this time, evidence thus far points to the following explanations:5 tips to get your child with autism to sleep

  1. Biological: Children with developmental disabilities show higher rates of circadian rhythm disturbance and lowered levels of melatonin.
  2. Social: children with developmental disabilities struggle with interpreting social cues, including those cues that indicate inform bedtime.
  3. Sensory: children with developmental disabilities exhibit disturbances in sensory processing. Because of this, minor bodily complaints, noise, light, and tactile input can disrupt a good night’s sleep.

If your child with autism or other developmental disabilities struggles to sleep well, the following strategies can help:

  1. Keep a sleep diary to recognize patterns in your child’s sleep. You may discover a precipitating cause or consistent trend causing the difficulties.
  2. Create a visual schedule of the bedtime routine. Knowing the routine and consistently following it can help the child prepare for bedtime.
  3. Have the child engage in calming activities one hour prior to bedtime. Screen time is prohibited due to its stimulating effects and interference with melatonin production.
  4. Provide the necessary sensory input that your child needs. They may require a weighted blanket for deep pressure, sound machine to drown out extraneous noises, or dim lights prior to bedtime to cue the child that sleep is approaching.
  5. Melatonin supplement use has been shown to be helpful in children with developmental disabilities but should always be discussed with your pediatrician and approved by them before beginning any regimen.

Read more about sleep disorders in children here.

Need help with getting your child with autism to sleep? Contact one of our sleep expert specialists.

 

Toe Walkers Part 1: What are Reasons Children Toe Walk | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s Webisode, a pediatric physical therapist explains why children may walk on their toes.

Learn more from this blog called “Is Toe Walking Normal?”

In this video you will learn:

  • How sensory input is related to toe walking
  • What is muscular dystrophy
  • What is idiopathic toe walking

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now, your host, here’s Robyn.

Robyn: Hello, and welcome to Pediatric Therapy TV. I’m your host, Robyn Ackerman, and I’m standing here today with Colleen Kearns, a Pediatric Physical Therapist. Colleen, can you give our viewers an explanation of why some children toe walk?

Colleen: Of course, Robyn. There are three main reasons why children may toe walk. The first one is related to sensory issues. Some children may actually be hypersensitive to certain textures on the floors that they are walking on, and the surfaces that they are walking on. So if that occurs, they may be more prone to walk on their toes to avoid those uncomfortable textures.

On the other hand, they may also be seeking extrasensory input. Maybe, some kids need a little bit more of the sensory input, and by walking on their toes they are locking their ankles and knees, and by doing that, they are actually getting more input from their joints. So that’s also why children with autism will walk on their toes, to get that extrasensory input.

The second main reason that children toe walk is due to an underlying diagnosis. Muscular dystrophy is a big one. That’s a genetic disorder where the muscle tissue is destroyed and it’s actually replaced by fat, and the calf muscles are often the first ones to be involved with that. So children with muscular dystrophy will toe walk in an effort to stabilize, due to the decreased strength. Any condition that results in an abnormal increase in muscle tone will also result in toe walking. A common one with that would be cerebral palsy.

The third reason why kids may toe walk is actually unknown. Some children, who don’t have an underlying diagnosis and don’t have sensory issues, just prefer to walk on their toes, and that’s what we call idiopathic toe walking, which means we just don’t know. Unfortunately, they can get into a very strong habit of doing it, and when they do that it results in a shortening of the muscles in their calf, and that actually makes it harder for the child to be able to get their foot flat on the ground. And when that happens, it’s kind of like a vicious cycle. They are more likely to be walking on their toes because they have a strong habit, then their muscles get shorter, then it’s harder for them to walk on their flat feet, so then they are even more prone to walking on their toes.

Robyn: All right. Well, thank you so much, and thank you to our viewers. And remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at learnmore.me. That’s Learnmore.me.

Is it okay for a Baby to Waddle with Feet Outward? What is “Toeing Out”?

In my continued effort to expedite information for parents, it is ok for your baby to waddle with their feet outwards up to the age of 2, or until the child has been walking for 4-6 months. Toeing out in new walkers is very typical up to the age of about 2, or once they have become proficient walkers.Waddling Baby

And here is why toeing out is normal in toddlers who have been walking for 4-6 months…

Babies walk in this pattern for several reasons, primarily because they are trying to maintain their balance by keeping a wide base of support due to their nervous system and their overall architecture.

New walkers are working with immature nervous systems so they need repetitive practice to build the nerve pathways.  In addition, they are learning what to do with the sensory input that they are receiving from their vestibular system (inner ear), as well as the somatosensory proprioception (feeling where their body is in space).  There are motor development theories that say that children walk not when the stepping pattern is mature, but when the balance control system matures.

Structurally, at the time children begin to walk, their center of mass is around the base of their ribs.  As they grow (and the head to body ratio changes) that center of mass lowers to around their belly button.  This high center of mass early on makes it more difficult to balance, leading to the need for an increased base of support to avoid falling.

New walkers often fire a lot of their hip muscles in order to stabilize themselves as they learn to balance on two feet.  EMG (neuromuscular studies) of children with 6 months of walking experience have also shown that they will fire their outer hip muscles (specifically the muscles that outwardly rotate their legs, and that move their legs apart) for stability.  In doing so, the hip outward rotators over-power the inward rotators, which brings their feet and legs out.

The anatomy of the feet of new walkers also facilitates their out-toeing gait pattern.  Newer walkers have large fat pads on the bottom of their feet and do not have the muscle strength or ligament stability to create a stable structure.  This capability of stabilizing at the foot typically comes with practice and age.

Since new walkers have had little weight-bearing through their legs, the shape of the thigh bone promotes a wide stance.  As the child bears weight on their legs, the shape of the bone begins to more closely resemble the mature alignment.

New walkers will often keep their arms at either chest or shoulder height to help with their balance.  This wide balance reinforces toddlers’ wide stance.  Once these children begin to swing their arms when they walk, then each step begins to promote a more narrow foot placement.

If you ever have concerns about how your child is walking, address it with your pediatrician.  If your child has been walking for 6 months or more and they continue to walk with a wide foot placement and arms at shoulder height, you may have legitimate concerns that could be addressed.

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What is the vestibular sense and why is it important?

What is the Vestibular Sense:

sit and spin

An example of a Sit-and-Spin

The vestibular sense responds to a change in your head position or having your feet lifted off of the ground. It also contributes to balance and equilibrium.

Why is the Vestibular Sense Important:

Vestibular input is important for children’s development because it helps them maintain balance and trunk control and also helps them to successfully interact with their environment for fine motor, visual motor (e.g. tracking a moving object), gross motor, sports activities and self-care activities (e.g. tilting the head back to rinse shampoo out of their hair). Vestibular input can also help a child to feel regulated in order to keep them focused and attentive.

Activities to provide vestibular input:

  • Somersaults
  • Log rolls
  • Rolling inside of a barrel/tunnel
  • Prone (on stomach) or inverted (upside down) on top of a large exercise ball
  • Swinging
  • Hanging upside down from a trapeze bar or monkey bars
  • Sit-n-Spin
  • Merry-go-round
  • Hammock
  • Roller coasters

Strategies for Oral and Motor/Sensorimotor Input

Children who put toys in their mouths, chew on their clothing or bite their pencils at school may be seeking oral motor/sensorimotor input to help their bodies reach anGirl chewing pencil optimal arousal level. We want to provide them with strategies to get this input in an appropriate manner. Here is a list of alternative strategies to support your child’s oral motor/sensorimotor needs.

Strategies For Children Seeking Oral Input:

1. Engage in activities such as whistling, blowing bubbles and using blow pens

2. Play games with straws (i.e. hockey by blowing cotton balls or splatter painting by blowing on paint using a straw)

3. Have them eat sweet and sour candies

4. Chew gum

5. Blow up balloons

6. Make a chewy necklace out of cheerios and licorice

7. Drink thick liquids (e.g. applesauce, pudding) through a straw

8. Drink water through a water bottle with a straw

9. Make a bubble volcano: Fill a bucket with soap and water, and have your child use a straw to blow bubbles to make the volcano. This is an activity you can use at home to help with self-regulation.

10. Send chewy, crunchy snacks (e.g. pretzels, granola bar, fruit leather, bagels) for lunch

11. Purchase products designed for chewing:

• Chewlery: http://www.therapro.com/Chewlery-and-Chewies-P321445.aspx

• Chew tubes and similar objects: http://www.therapro.com/Designed-to-Chew-C307786.aspx

• Other fun oral motor tools: http://funandfunction.com/oral-motor-chewies-c-65_107_110.html

• ChewEase pencil toppers: http://www.amazon.com/3-Clear-ChewEase-Pencil-Toppers/dp/B001G2DAK8