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Sensory Processing Disorder and the School Cafeteria: Strategies for Lunchtime Success

Trays clashing. Silverware clinking. Kids shouting. Scary vegetables. Bright lights. Weird smells. People everywhere.Blog-Sensory-Cafeteria-Main-Landscape

The school cafeteria provides a wide array of sensory experiences all at once. Some kids, especially those with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), can be overwhelmed by any 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!

  1. Location, location, location- Where a child sits in the cafeteria can greatly affect a his or her behavior and sensory input. For a child who is easily visually distracted, sit them so they’re facing away from the entire room so they can focus on their meal. For a child with sensitivity to smells, make sure they are sitting 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 stimuli is bothering them, but they can have a hard time verbalizing it. 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) to tell the teacher they need a break. This could be a movement break, or a break in the hall for some quiet time.
  3. Give the child a fidget- 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 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 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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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!

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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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Sensory Tips for Sporting Events

Summer is a great time to enjoy sports! Whether it’s going to a Bear’s pre-season game at Soldier field, aSensory Tips ball park, or even a sibling’s soccer game, sporting events come with a large variety of sensory experiences. This can be a great part of the event, or one that makes some children want to run for the hills. If your child has sensory processing difficulties, you may need to prepare your child (and be prepared!) for what’s ahead.

Here are some sensory tips for kiddos whose ideal Saturday may not be spent cheering in a roaring crowd at a sporting event:

For the child with auditory sensitivities:

  • Bring along noise canceling headphones or ear plugs to help drown out the loud sounds.
  • Tell your child when to expect a loud buzzer so they can cover their ears (e.g. watch the clock count down at the end of a quarter/half/period).
  • Give them “quiet breaks” where you take them to a quieter part of the stadium/arena, like the bathroom or concessions, to allow them to regulate.

For child who just can’t stop moving:

  • Give them movement breaks! Let them walk up and down the stairs and time them to see how fast they can do it; take them with you when you’re going to get food or to the restroom.
  • Give them a wiggly cushion seat that allows them to wiggle while still staying seated.
  • Make sure to incorporate a lot of movement activities before the event to help them be able to sit longer (e.g. animal walks, wall pushes, hokey pokey)
  • Let them stand. Some kids can pay attention better when they’re allowed to stand. Let them stand at their seat or find an area where they are allowed to watch while standing.

For a child who is sensitive to tactile input:

  • Let them be comfortable. If they insist on wearing a particular type of sock or their shirt inside out, this is not the time to say no (within reason). Allow them to be as comfortable as possible so there are no meltdowns in the middle of the 2nd
  • Let them sit in the middle of the family; some children are sensitive to light touch and may become upset if they are constantly being brushed by passers-by while sitting on an aisle.
  • Wear long sleeved lycra shirt: rushing through crowds bring along a lot of unwanted light touch. Wearing-sleeved shirts (i.e. Under Armour) can help lessen that aversive sensation.

For a child sensitive to visual input:

  • Bring sunglasses. Even if the event is indoors, the bright lighting may be overwhelming if they are exposed to it for long periods of time.
  • Bring a hat. A jacket with a hood also works and gives the option of blocking out bright lights and other distractions.

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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Top Sensory Strategies for Use in the Classroom

Promoting your child’s success at school can be a challenging task, particularly for parents of childrenSensory Strategies with sensory processing difficulties. Communication between parents, teachers and school personnel is critical for establishing a safe, supportive and enriching environment. Children with sensory integration difficulties may have enormous problems in the classroom, not because of a lack of intelligence or willingness to learn, but rather resulting from difficulty coping with a neurologic system that isn’t organizing and responding appropriately to a variety of sensory stimulation from the external world.

A well- organized sensory system is important for everything a child does, especially when it comes to maintaining focus and attention in the environment of a classroom. While the child with sensory integration difficulties can benefit from a sensory-smart classroom, so can every child. All children benefit from a calm, distraction free classroom where they can feel more in control, and in turn, improve their schoolwork and social skills.

The following is a compilation of sensory strategies for use in the classroom to promote the learning potential of every child, including those with sensory processing challenges:

Provide “Heavy Work” Opportunities:

Heavy work gives necessary input to the child’s body, helping him develop an improved body awareness and regulating his system. Allow the child to take responsibility in the classroom by completing specific “jobs.”

  • Carry books to the library, or to another teacher
  • Hand out papers to the class
  • Watering plants in the classroom
  • Push/pull heavy items in the classroom, i.e., chairs, boxes, class supplies
  • Erase the board
  • Empty wastebaskets or recycling

Seating Modifications:

Providing movement opportunities on the child’s seat, or at his desk is a great way to provide necessary sensory input many children crave, while also helping to increase their attention during stationary, table top tasks.

  • Tie a Theraband around the front legs of the child’s chair
  • Provide a wiggle seat to place on the chair surface
  • Allow time for “chair push-ups,” especially before seated writing tasks

Keep Those Hands Busy:

Many children with sensory processing challenges have a need for tactile input, resulting in constant touching of objects, and other classmates. For these kiddos, maintaining an optimal arousal level with regular (and non-distracting) tactile input is important.

  • Place a Velcro strip on, or inside of the child’s desk, or on the edge of his seat
  • Give the child a small bottle of lotion (with a calming scent, such as lavender) to place in his desk, or in his back pack, for those times when he needs to move his hands
  • Experiment with fidgets in a variety of forms: worry stone, paperclips, squeeze ball, necklace fidgets, bracelets, zipper pull fidgets, etc. (For some children, however, these items may be too distracting. If the object is decreasing attention, opt for the sensory input as noted above with Velcro placed on the desk itself.)

Movement Breaks:

All children need frequent breaks from work to get up and stretch and move their bodies. Frequent gross motor breaks help to “wake-up” the body and reset the brain, increasing arousal levels, resulting in improved attention and a calm body

  • Provide simplified yoga routines
  • Try jumping jacks, or marching around the classroom (or at the desk)
  • Try “animal walks,” such as bear walk, crab walk, or frog jumps
  • Recess time with active play including running, jumping and climbing

Reducing Visual and Auditory Stimulus:

For those children who become overwhelmed with too much visual input, or noise in the classroom, try the following strategies to help them maintain attention and focus.

  • Use low light, or natural light as much as possible versus fluorescent lighting
  • Provide a “quiet space” in one corner of the classroom where children can complete work with less distractions (adding beanbags to sit in this space would be a great addition as well)
  • Play quiet, rhythmic music
  • Eliminate clutter on bulletin boards
  • Place a curtain or sheet over open shelves containing games, art materials, toys that may be distracting

Snack Time:

Chewing, biting, or sucking on hard, crunchy items can be very regulating and calming for kids with sensory challenges.

  • Parents can pack chewy food items such as a bagel, or dried fruit to provide great oral proprioceptive input
  • Teachers may want to allow a water bottle with a thick straw to be kept at the desk (adding a little lemon to the water may help arousal levels as well)
  • Parents can pack a wide-mouth straw for eating items such as yogurt and applesauce
  • Provide crunchy fruit and veggie snacks such as apples, carrots and celery

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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A Sensory Friendly Fourth of July

The Fourth of July can be an exciting and eventful time for most children, but for a child with sensorySensory Friendly processing difficulties, it can become overwhelming. Children with hypersensitivities to visual and auditory input may have a difficult time staying regulated and engaging in the activities that this holiday has to offer.

Here are some strategies for you and your child to have a sensory friendly holiday:

  1. Although fireworks can be a fun event for your family to attend, many children find the excess noise to be overwhelming. One strategy that might be helpful is to utilize noise-canceling headphones. If these are unavailable to you any type of ear buds you may have lying around the house could also help to muffle the sounds of fireworks. The bright flashing lights of fireworks can also be discomforting to a child with visual hypersensitivities. Bring along some shaded glasses to help block out some of that excess light.
  2. Parades may also be a very overwhelming activity for your child to engage in. The large crowds, loud music and bright colors can all be very stimulating and your child may have difficulties handling this overstimulation. One strategy that you could implement would be to avoid the crowd and watch from afar. Look around for a nearby building that you could watch from a window or find a designated area with fewer people.
  3. For a sensory seeking child you may want to create some sensory bins or activities for your child to engage in to help them feel more regulated. Mix red and blue paint into shaving cream (or uncooked colored rice or noodles to avoid the mess) and hide 4th of July themed items for your child to find. Your child may also need to engage in some heavy work activities before going to fireworks, parade, etc. so that he/she is regulated before these events. Some heavy work activities may include animal walks, carrying, pulling or lifting heavier objects, climbing, or crashing into pillows/cushions.
  4. Bring familiar items with you to these events to provide your child the comfort of home. Bring a favorite blanket or toy and let your child utilize it at times when they are feeling overwhelmed.
  5. Also remember to set expectations for your child. Let them know what the plan is for the day so they are more prepared for what they may encounter. Let them help you in planning out what to do for the day. This will make them feel more comfortable in these settings and can also give them the feeling that they have a choice. Having a plan will reduce anxiety for a child who is rigid or struggles with change. Visual schedules can also help to prompt your child as to what activities you have planned for the day. You can bring this along with you and take it out while transitioning from one activity to the next as a reminder.

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 today!

For additional information, watch our Facebook recording of A Sensory Friendly Fourth of July:

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Horrible Haircuts and Terrible Toothpaste: Helping Your Child With Sensory Processing Disorder Tolerate Hygiene

Children of all ages often find basic hygiene tasks boring, annoying, and tedious. Who wants to brush their teeth when they can go play outside? While it can be difficult to get any child to perform these tasks, it is exponentially more difficult for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder.  Sensory Processing Disorder

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) involves atypical processing and integration of incoming sensory information. A child with SPD may have difficulty processing any of the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell). They also may have difficulty processing the two “hidden senses,” proprioception (processing input from muscles and joints) and vestibular processing (processing input regarding movement and head position). Children with difficulty modulating incoming sensory input often have strong sensitivities to certain sensations, which can interfere with their ability to participate in age-appropriate activities.

Why Do Children with Sensory Processing Disorder Struggle with Hygiene?

Many children, especially those with tactile and auditory processing difficulties, have difficulty with hygiene and grooming. Engaging in these activities with children with SPD can often feel like a fight. This is because children with sensory sensitivities often go into “fight or flight” mode when presented with aversive sensations. While the buzz of an electric trimmer, the cold metal of a nail clipper, or sticky soap that just won’t seem to rinse off may not be your favorite, for a child with SPD if may feel like walking the plank!

How Can I Help My Child?

The good news is there are many strategies to help your child with SPD tolerate hygiene tasks with fewer outbursts. Below are a few steps involved in creating a grooming routine that works for you and your family.

Step 1: Figure out what your child is afraid of.

It is very important to determine which particular sensations are the problem. If your child is old enough, you can ask him or her about which specific sensations he or she dislikes or fears. This may also help you find some quick and easy solutions; perhaps the smell of the particular brand of soap or taste of toothpaste is the culprit.

If your child is too young or does not have the self-awareness or communication skills to discuss hygiene tasks, it will be your job to figure out what is bothering him or her. Think of yourself as a “sensory detective” and examine your child during these tasks. Does she pull away at the touch of a brush? Does he cower at the sound of the hair dryer? Observing your child and spending some time analyzing what bothers him or her will get you closer to finding a solution!

Step 2: Change your routine based on their particular sensory sensitivities:

If your child has tactile (touch) processing difficulties or sensitivities:
– Engage in deep touch pressure activities before and after the hygiene task. By providing deep touch pressure to a child’s body, he or she becomes less sensitive to undesired “light touch” inputs. There are many ways to provide deep touch pressure: firm massage to the limbs, upper back, and head; use a therapeutic body brush if you have been trained by an occupational therapist to use one; apply firm pressure on a large pillow or blanket to give your child’s body “squishes.” And don’t forget- tight hugs are a highly underrated mechanism for deep touch pressure!

– Provide pressure during the task. Try applying more pressure to the head when brushing hair. Utilize a weighted or heavy blanket on your child’s lap during a hair or nail trim. Have your child wear a compression shirt or compression vest during activities.

– Consider temperature. If a cold nail clipper feels sterile and uninviting, warm it up. If the faucet is normally on cold when your child washes hands, add some hot water and give a few minutes to warm up. Temperature can make a huge difference!

– Consider purchasing an electric toothbrush. For some children with tactile sensitivities, vibration can be a very regulating sensation. If you are unsure how your child will respond, experiment with a vibrating oral massager (e.g. Z-Vibe, Jiggler) before investing in a pricy electric toothbrush.

If your child has auditory (sound) processing difficulties:
– Warn the child before your turn the device on. This allows the child to mentally prepare for a hair dryer, electric toothbrush, or razor to turn on.

– Allow the child to wear headphones, if it does not interfere with the activity.

Step 3: Build a consistent grooming routine.

Children with SPD rely on routines to help them make sense of the world. The more your child can expect and rely on a familiar routine, the calmer he or she will be.

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

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Biting, Hitting and Pushing: Bad Behavior or Sensory Processing Disorder?

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I often have teachers and parents ask me if a child’s sensory Blog-Bad-Behavior-or-SPD-Main-Landscapeprocessing is causing them to behave badly in school. In kindergarten especially, we often see “bad behavior” manifest in many ways: kicking or hitting peers, biting friends, spitting, or yelling at others. In some cases, the child’s sensory system may be to blame. In others, bad behavior could be contributed to the child seeking out attention, or avoiding work or non-preferred play. Read below to help identify and understand the difference between the two.

Sensory Processing:

When a child’s nervous system cannot respond logically to incoming sensory input (such as loud talking in the cafeteria), the result may cause the child to appear disorganized, clumsy, or disobedient. Oftentimes, children who are seeking out movement (vestibular input) or body position (proprioceptive input) are often the children who crave bear hugs or body squeezes. These are the climbers, the explorers, and the daredevils as they are attempting to seek out extra information from the environment to feel more organized. When they are not given these opportunities, they may resort to inefficient ways to help seek out information which may manifest into tackling, hitting or biting friends. When these children are given ways to regulate efficiently, such as 10 minutes of heavy work activities on the playground, or intense proprioceptive or vestibular input before sitting down at the table to complete the day’s activities, they are much better able to respond and attend to the activities.

Behavior:

Behavior, which can be defined as the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others, often is the result of a conglomeration of events. For example, a child’s bad behavior may be a response to a negative sensory experience, or it may be the child’s way of receiving more attention from parents, teachers and friends, or it may be both. A child with sensory concerns who often tackles peers or siblings may be attempting to receive feedback from the environment. However, it’s also possible he is looking for ways to get attention from others in his environment. When this is the case, it is important to follow up with a strategic plan. Experts recommend attempting to ignore the behavior as much as possible (not overreacting to the situation, ensuring the child follows through on the task required of them no matter what behavior they are exhibiting, ignoring disrespectful behavior and not responding until the child appropriately requests for help). Rewarding good behavior via a positive reinforcement chart, acknowledgement of a job well done, and praise for completing the task at hand are all examples of ways to reward good behavior.

There is no easy solution for recognizing the difference between bad behavior and sensory processing disorder. Oftentimes, parents and teachers may need to take each event on a case-by-case basis to determine whether or not the breakdown occurred as a result of a sensory processing difficulty. To help decipher the difference between the two, I recommend keeping track of the specific behaviors in a journal to help identify any triggers or common events that provoke the child and cause the disruption.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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Best Apps to Reinforce Occupational Therapy Concepts

Within our day and age, technology can be used in many ways to facilitate daily functional skills. In regards to occupational therapy, there are many apps that can be used to facilitate and reinforce occupational therapy concepts at home with your child. The following apps are great for facilitating listening skills, transitions, attending to tasks, self-regulation, body awareness and handwriting skills. Blog-Occupational-Therapy-Concepts-Main-Portrait

These apps are easy to use and can be used anywhere and at any time to reinforce occupational therapy concepts:

Metronome App

  • Importance and benefits of using a metronome:
    • Help develop and improve rhythm
    • Improves listening skills
    • Facilitates the ability to attend over an extended period of time.
  • Population:
    • Any child with difficulties following directions, attention, and rhythm.

ASD Tools

  • Importance and benefits:
    • Helps with transitioning from one activity to another, attending to specific tasks, as well as, following directions.
  • Features:
    • Visual schedule
    • First-then visual
    • Timer with a visual
    • Reward system
  • Population:

Brainworks

  • Importance and benefits:
    • Great and easy way to develop activities for a sensory diet.
  • Features:
    • Organizes all the activities into what would be best for your child.
    • Provides 130 sensory activities with pictures and descriptions.
    • Provides activities that can be completed at home, school, in the community, or at a table or desk.
    • Allows you to choose whether your child is feeling “just right, slow and sluggish, fast and stressed, or fast and hyper”- a list of sensory activities will be provided based on how the child is feeling.
  • Population:

Handwriting Without Tears: Wet-Dry-Try

  • Importance and benefits:
    • Great app that allows children to practice handwriting.
    • Provides multisensory ways to practice correct letter formation.
  • Features:
    • Capital/lower case letters, and numbers on a chalkboard with double lines.
    • Has a left-handed setting.
    • Reports errors for extra guidance.
  • Population:
    • Helpful for children with poor handwriting skills including letter formation and sizing.

Zones of Regulation App

  • Importance and benefits:
    • Great app for developing self-regulation strategies.
    • Helps children develop skills to assist in regulating their bodies, emotions, and behaviors.
    • Helps children acknowledge how they feel and acquire the skills to create strategies to cope with their emotions.
  • Features:
    • Mini games to help facilitate learning the zones of regulation and develop strategies to facilitate emotional control and self-regulation.
  • Population:
    • Helpful for children who have difficulty with emotional control and self-regulation.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

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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 5 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!

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