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6 Coping Strategies for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder in Their School Cafeteria

Trays clashing, Silverware clinking, Kids shouting, Scary vegetables, Bright lights, Weird smells, People everywhere.
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The school cafeteria hits the senses with a wide array of sensory experiences all at once. Some children, especially those with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), can find the lunchtime experience overwhelming because of some or all of the sensory aspects of a cafeteria. Preparing your child or student for this part of the school day can help them enjoy, not dread, lunchtime and that can positively impact their entire school experience.

  1. Location, location, location- Where a child sits in the cafeteria can greatly affect his or her behavior and sensory input. For example, a child who is easily visually distracted should be sat so that he or she is facing away from the entire room, which will help them to they can focus on their meal. For a child with sensitivity to smells, make sure they are sat as far away from the lunch line as possible.
  2. Help the child advocate for themselves- Children with SPD can feel when they’re starting to get overwhelmed by whatever sensory stimulus is bothering them, but they can have a hard time explaining it to others. Teach the child that when they start feeling bad, upset, or their “engine” is running too fast (or any other term you use when your child is escalating) they should tell their teacher that they need a break. This could be a movement break, or some quiet time in a hall or designated quiet space.
  3. Give the child a fidget toy- This is a small toy the child can fidget with, ideally, without distracting other children. This would be great for the child who has a hard time not touching his friends who are sitting close to him.
  4. Put a sensory toolkit in their lunchbox- This can vary from child to child, depending on what their sensory needs are. You could put in a fidget for the child who has a hard time sitting still, or a favorite lip balm or lotion for the child who is sensitive to smells to give them a familiar scent to help calm them down (or one to mask the smell of the cafeteria). You could put in pictures of sensory strategies as reminders of how to calm down if they’re getting overwhelmed (e.g. deep breaths, hand-pushes, chair push-ups). Sunglasses could be helpful for the child who is sensitive to the bright lights in the cafeteria.
  5. Familiar foods- For those children with oral sensory sensitivities who are picky eaters, make sure to pack foods they will eat. This is not the time to send mustard on their sandwich for the first time or ask them to try whatever the cafeteria is serving. Have your child help you pack their lunch so that they know what to expect, or go over the menu for the week with them and choose the day(s) they will buy their lunch.
  6. Regulating foods- crunchy foods (e.g. carrots, pretzel sticks) can be very regulating for children with SPD, particularly children with oral-seeking behaviors. Other great food ideas include sucking thick liquids (yogurt, applesauce) from a straw, hard candies, or gum.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanston, LincolnwoodGlenviewLake Bluff, Deerfield, and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at 1-866-309-4610 and speak to an NSPT team member.

Happy Travels with a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder

Throughout the year, you and your family are bound to hit the open road a time or two forTraveling with Sensory Processing Disorder one of a number of reasons. Many families may want to check out the scene in a new city. Others, will seek thrills at an amusement park or visit a family member that lives out of town. These trips can provide children with priceless learning opportunities and families with memories that will last a lifetime. For children with Sensory Processing Disorders however, these trips can be also be extremely challenging. Below are 6 tips and tricks to use in order to best support children who have difficulty processing sensory information on your next family vacation.

  1. Discuss what to expect: Talking about the specific logistics of a trip can help to ease your child’s anxiety about the ambiguity of what’s coming next. Similarly, it’s important to talk about what will be expected of your child while traveling. Here are some questions that your child may have prior to traveling. Think through each one and discuss them as a family before your next adventure begins:
    1. What is the mode of transportation (ie. plane, train, or automobile)?
    2. What will you see? Will there be a lot of people?
    3. What will you smell?
    4. What will you hear? Will it be loud?
    5. How much time will it take? What will you do to pass the time?
    6. How much space will your child have? Will there be time or room to play?
    7. What are the rules while traveling?
  2. Decrease the amount of extraneous and unfamiliar noise: Use noise cancelling headphones or calming music. Both strategies can help your child to calm themselves and more effectively process auditory sensory information, especially with the added stressors of travel.
  3. Prepare a backpack of travel essentials: Many adults pack a small carry-on bag with a few items that will help them pass the time. Items often include shoulder pillows, eye masks, ear phones and iPods; as well as a favorite book or magazine. For children with various sensory processing disorders, include some of the items listed below:
    1. Snacks, water, gum, or hard candies.
    2. Pack a heavy object to help your child regulate. A book or weighted blanket are great options.
    3. Bring a comfort object such as a blanket or favorite stuffed animal.
    4. Include fun activities such as mini board games, coloring pages, books, or playing cards
  4. Call the airline or tourist destination ahead of time: Explain your child’s sensory needs. Certain airlines, parks, and museums have special accommodations for children with sensory processing disorders.
  5. Preparatory Heavy Work: Before taking off for your trip, or during breaks in travel, engage your kiddos in Heavy Work activities. Tasks include animal walks, pushing or pulling luggage, push ups, or big hugs from mom and dad. All of these activities provide your child’s big muscle and joint groups with proprioceptive input. This input is extremely regulating for children, like exercise could be for an adult, and will help to calm your child for the next leg of travel.
  6. Expect some ornery fellow passengers: While it is unfortunate, you may come across someone throughout your travels who will have a low tolerance for kids being kids. Depending on your comfort level in doing so (or your ability to turn the other cheek), write out small note cards explaining that your child has a Sensory Processing Disorder and that as a family, you are doing the best you can to travel with minimal interruptions to the routines of those around you. You could even offer nearby passengers earplugs to help block out any extraneous noises.

The bottom line is that while traveling can be challenging, it can also be an extremely rewarding experience for everyone involved. With a fair amount of foresight and appropriate preparation, you can help to shape your trip into an experience of a lifetime for your whole family. Happy travels!

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!

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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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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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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Sensory Processing Disorder and Fall Activities: Strategies to Promote Success at Apple Orchards and Pumpkin Patches

Fall is the perfect time of the year for children to explore apple orchards and pumpkin patches. These outdoor activities expose children to various sensory experiences. Children with Sensoryblog-sensory processing disorder-fall-activities-main-landscape Processing Disorder (SPD) may have a difficult time appropriately responding to the sensory input that they are exposed to at these community events.

Below are several strategies to help prepare for and promote a successful experience at apple orchards and pumpkin patches with a child with Sensory Processing Disorder:

Preparation

Prior to leaving for the orchard or pumpkin patch, prepare your child for what he or she is about to experience (especially if it is the first trip to these fall sites). Have your child look at pictures or books related to these fall activities. Share with them the activities that they will partake in, so they know what to expect (e.g. hay ride, mazes, drinking cider). Discuss safety and the importance of staying together (e.g. holding hands).

What to Bring

Pack the essentials:

  • Clothing for various weather changes
  • Sunglasses/hat for children who are sensitive to bright sunlight
  • Preferred and comforting food/drinks
    • Crunchy/chewy foods and drinks that involve sucking thicker liquids through a straw can help regulate the body
  • Familiar or soothing item from home to help calm your child down or a fidget to help keep hands to self (e.g. blanket, toy)

Hula-Hoop Space/Retreat Spot

Some children have a hard time being in close proximity to other people and objects. To help them avoid feeling overwhelmed by this experience in the orchard and pumpkin patch, encourage your child to create a ‘hula-hoop space’ with his or her arms arched in front of the belly and fingertips touching. This will help your child visually see and physically feel how much space should be between him or her and other people/objects. As a family, determine a ‘retreat spot’ at the orchard or patch that you and your children can retreat to help re-organize the body and take a break.

Regulating Heavy Work

Your child may seek out a lot of movement and take climbing risks. Heavy work activities can help organize and regulate the body. At an apple orchard or pumpkin patch you can encourage the following heavy work activities. Be sure to appropriately modify the weight your child pulls/carries/pushes based on his or her age and size:

  • Pull a wagon
  • Push pumpkins
  • Carry a sack of 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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Messy Sensory Play | Facebook Live Video

Have some fun and get a little messy! One of our expert Occupational Therapists discussed why messy play is important, provided tips for helping your child with touch sensitivities and even covered a few activity ideas for your kiddo to do at home!

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 at Summer Camp | Facebook Live Video

Kids are having fun at summer camp and it’s time to do everything we can to make sure they’re getting as much out of it as possible! Join one of our expert occupational therapists for Sensory at Summer Camp!

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 at the Pool | Facebook Live Video

Sensory At The Pool dove in to the world of a child’s sensory integration at a pool. Watch as one of our expert Occupational Therapists covered red flags, provided examples of what a child may experience (ex. walking across the cold, wet tile of a locker room floor) and shared some tips and tricks to helping your kiddo cope and make the best of summer!

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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Sending a Child with Autism to School

Sending a child with autism to school can be a very overwhelming process, not just for the children butBlog-Autism-Main-Landscape also the parents. The key to success is starting the process early so that your child will have all of the supports they need to make not just their first day successful but their entire school year. While the process will be slightly different for each child due to their specific needs, here are some general guidelines to follow to ensure your child’s success when sending them to school.

Before the First Day

  • Finding the right school and classroom: The first place to start when preparing to send your child with autism to school is by selecting the best school for your child. During the previous Fall or Spring, start touring schools and meeting with the teachers and administrative staff. You want to make sure that the school and classroom setting you choose will be the most beneficial for your child’s specific needs! You can start the IEP process with testing as well to ensure that when the school year begins, your child has all the supports they need on the very first day.
  • Social story: Once you have found the right school for your child, write a social story about the various rooms of the school and their teacher. Talking to your child’s teacher before writing it will also ensure you know what rooms your child will be frequently in for their classes. Just make sure to get permission first from the school before taking any pictures.
  • Practicing: Starting new routines can be hard for children with autism so by practicing the routine a week or two before school starts, your child will most likely be more successful on their first day. When practicing, consider all of the new variables for your child, such as wearing a backpack or school uniform, practicing carrying a tray of food, or waiting outside for the school bus.

On the First Day

  • Safety and Sensory Needs: It is always better to be over prepared than underprepared. If you are concerned about your child’s safety, consider an I.D. bracelet, which can be purchased online or at local stores such as Walgreens. If your child has any sensory needs, have their supports ready and available. These could include headphones, chew tubes, a fidget toy, sunglasses, and/or a compression shirt. Make sure if you are sending any of these to inform their teacher and administrative staff as well.
  • Other Materials: Sending an extra pair of clothes is always a good idea. While schools often have some extra clothes for children to wear, children with autism may be sensitive to different scents or textures and as a result refuse to wear the communal clothes. If allowed, consider bringing a water bottle or a preferred snack to eat at specified times.

Other Considerations

  • Dietary Needs: When you are finding the right school and preparing your child for success, dietary needs can be frequently overlooked. Communicate with your teachers and administrative staff what your child’s dietary needs are currently, such as small frequent snacks vs. a large meal or starting by eating in a quieter area of the lunchroom. While you can have goals for your child to eat the school provided meals with their peers in the lunchroom, moving slowly towards these goals will make your child more successful not just during lunch and snacks, but all day by not having your child feel hungry.
  • Communication: It is important to be very clear and honest about what type of communication you would like with the school and how often. Oftentimes children with autism are not able to recall and tell you what happened at school. An agreed upon communication system can alleviate this concern and also be used as a tool to work on recall.

After your child’s first successful day at school, make sure to congratulate not just your child and the school, but also yourself for starting the hard work early. As the school year unfolds, remember to stay in communication with your child’s teachers and administrative staff to make adjustments as needed and enjoy watching your child with autism succeed at school.

For additional information, check out our other Autism and school blogs.

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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