A Very Sensory Spring

by FS&TS

By Jennafer Young, MS, OTR/L

Spring is here! And with it come many advantages to outdoor sensory play.

The outdoors is the perfect place for your child to encounter rich, meaningful, fun, and challenging sensory experiences! Think about it: playing outside provides some of the greatest variety in sensory experiences. You naturally have many sounds (birds, cars driving by, children down the street)...many smells (grass, pine needles, rain)...many sights (various colors, sizes, distances, and patterns)...and many textures (light breeze on your face, sticky mud on your hands, soft grass on your feet).

On top of all this input, you have plenty of movement input (vestibular and proprioceptive) from the play children naturally participate in when they are outside: running, swinging, puddle jumping, rolling, digging, sliding, climbing...the list goes on!

When children are playing outside, they get to learn about challenging and wonderful sensory input in a natural, non-threatening way. They get to learn about the world that will always be around them, rather than a contrived world of sensory bins and structured play. Don’t get me wrong - I love these too. But these activities imitate rather than replace the sensory-rich experiences found in nature. So let’s set aside our grown-up and all-too-practical ideas of uber cleanliness, hyper-safety patrol, and total control. Let’s encourage our kids to get outside, get sweaty, and get dirty! Here are a few ideas:

Instead of staying inside to create home-made play dough for a texture experience, why not go dig in the sandbox or make mud pies?

Rather than having animal races down the hallway, why not have your races outside where the whole body is engaged in a sensory experience?

Instead of playing in a water basin or bathtub, why not put on old clothes and go puddle jumping?

Rather than host a dance party to get the wiggles out, why not climb trees or have rolling races down the hill in the backyard?

And don’t forget to invite the neighbor kids! You may be amazed at the sensory input your child will accept when they have a friend laughing and playing right along with them.


Happy Spring!

Mother's Day Presents

by FS&TS

By Gina Czmowski, MOTR/L

Macaroni necklaces. Hand-made cards. Modeling clay figurines. If you are a mother, you have surely received one, if not all, of these homemade gifts from your young one for Mother’s Day. And although these gifts may not get you quite as excited as say, jewelry, a massage, or a night out, you’d be happy to know that through the creation of that gift, your child was working towards his/ her occupational therapy goals. How, you might ask?

Well, that macaroni necklace...

It required the use of fine motor skills to pick up the noodles and visual-motor skills to get the noodles onto the string.

That hand-made card…

It required bilateral coordination and visual motor skills to cut out the construction paper heart. Or, sensory processing was necessary to be able to make that giant handprint flower out of paint. Or, fine motor skills were needed to draw that abstract picture of “Mommy and Me”.  

Those modeling clay figurines…

It required hand strength to knead the clay. Fine motor skills were used to craft each tiny detail, and sensory processing for your child to know where their body was in space, in order to not crush the figurine each time one of those little details was added.

 

So as we prepare our best “excited faces” for this year’s Mother’s Day gift, take a minute to remember the many skills your little one executed in order to fabricate that “one of a kind” creation.

10 Ways That Speech Therapy Can Help Your Child

by FS&TS

By Kelly Hungaski, MS/CCC-SLP

When I tell people that I am a speech language pathologist, I receive a blank stare.  They sometimes ask if I am working with dead people.  I’m not.  I explain that I work with children providing speech therapy.  Most people smile, nod or share a story of someone they know who needed to get speech therapy to produce “s” or the elusive “r” sound.  

Speech language pathologists are experts at teaching children how to produce speech sounds.  We know how to work with children who are missing a few sounds or children who are not producing hardly any sounds.  Speech therapists can teach the child how to use more mature patterns of speech, the placement for consonant and vowel sounds and how to speak more clearly.  But that’s not all we do.  Read on for my top ten ways that speech language therapists help children of ages.

1. Teach children how to follow directions or how to answer questions.

Speech language pathologists assess a child’s ability to understand language.  We can figure out which parts of the direction a child is having difficulty with.  Are longer directions harder or does the child not hear the smaller location words in a direction (in vs on)?  We can help children understand question words (who, what, where, when, why) and how to answer these questions.

2. Teach correct grammar.

We call it syntax.  These children may have difficulty producing pronouns like he or she (him is sitting down) or they may have a hard time using the correct verb tense forms.  They might say “he runned” instead of “he ran.”  Difficulties with understanding pronouns and verb tense forms make it difficult for children to understand what is happening at school.  

3. Help children learn how to tell about a personal experience.  

Some children jump into the middle of a story or forget to tell you who was there.  They may have a difficulty organzing their story into a logical manner.  We can help them learn how to provide all of the relevant information (but not too much information) and how to sequence a story so that you can understand what they are talking about.

4. Teach children how to chew and swallow foods safely.

Speech language pathologists have extensive training on the anatomy of the mouth and respiration system.  We can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination for children who are unable to chew and swallow foods, who choke or gag on foods, who take a long time to eat or who have difficulty drinking liquids.  

5. Decrease stuttering or dysfluent behaviors .

Speech therapists can help teach breath support and fluency enhancing strategies for children who stutter.  We love to educate parents and teachers about stuttering and how to respond to someone who stutters.

6. Teach children how to participate in conversations

Some children always answer I don’t know or like to dominate a conversation with their interests.  Speech language pathologists can teach turn taking and understanding the parts of the conversation.  We can teach how to start and end a conversation and how to ask questions and comment.

7. Teach social skills and problem solving skills.

Speech language pathologists help children developing perspective taking skills (how to understand that other people have different thoughts from us.)  We can teach strategies for how to make friends.  We can teach them the steps for identifying and solving problems.  

8. Teach first words.

When toddlers are delayed in talking, you can turn to your speech language pathologist for help.  We are experts in teaching children how to request and comment using toys, games and books.  

9. Teach other methods of communication.

Some children have a really difficult time developing speech-or speech that other people understand.  Speech language pathologists can provide recommendations for communication books or computer programs that will allow these children to communicate.  Once the device or book is received, we use routines and typical activities to teach the child and family how to communicate using their new system.

10. Improve vocal quality and hygiene.

Speech language pathologists can work with doctors to assist children who have vocal nodules or voice disorders.  We can help children develop healthy voice habits, improve breath support and teach strategies for relaxing the muscles when speaking.  

5 Fun Books for Spring

by FS&TS

By Emily Jung, M.S.CCC-SLP

Here are 5 great books to celebrate leaving the cold winter behind and celebrating the arrival of spring! All of these books contain great imagery and descriptive words to help expand your child’s language skills.

Hurray For Spring
Hurray for Spring is a whimsical welcome to a child's favorite season. Delightful, rhyming text with lots of fun words make this a wonderfully cadenced anthem to spring. Adorable illustrations with larger-than-life details spring off the page. 

And Then It’s Spring
Following a snow-filled winter, a young boy and his dog decide that they've had enough of all that brown and resolve to plant a garden. They dig, they plant, they play, they wait . . . and wait . . . until at last, the brown becomes a more hopeful shade of brown, a sign that spring may finally be on its way.

Mouse’s First Spring
One bright day, Mouse and Momma head outside to play. The wind blows in something feathery and plump (a bird), something wiggly and pink (a worm), and something green that hops and leaps (a frog). But before it’s time to go back inside, Mouse finds something with petals that’s soft and new...the prettiest flower he’s ever seen! Could it mean spring is finally here?

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Frog
Spring is in the air, and everyone's favorite old lady is ready to celebrate!
That zany old lady is back--and with a serious case of spring fever! This time she's swallowing items to make the most of the season...with a beautiful garden!
With rhyming text and funny illustrations, this lively version of the classic song will appeal to young readers with every turn of the page--a wacky story for the first day of spring

My Spring Robin
When spring arrives, a young girl looks everywhere for the robin who sang for her last year. She sees all the sights and sounds of the new season: a blooming crocus, a buzzing bee, a colorful magnolia tree, a brief rain shower…but where is the robin?
 

Building Language Outside

by FS&TS

As the weather turns warm and the grass starts to green, outdoor play is upon us! Here are some fun and effective ways to improve your child’s language skills while enjoying the outdoors. 

Categories

Have your child practice naming categories or listing items from a category. For example, have your child name 3-5 different animals that you can find outside. Have your child name 3-5 items that are at a playground. Have your child name 3-5 items in a garden. You could also list 3-5 items from a category and ask your child what category the items belong to.

Questions

Playing ‘I spy’ can work on your child’s ability to ask and answer questions. Pick an object you see and have your child ask you questions to figure out what your object is. Then have your child pick an object and you can answer questions so that you can figure out what his/her object is.

Following Directions

Have your child help you prepare something and break the tasks into 1-2 steps at a time. For example, ‘Carry the sandwich buns outside and open the bag.’ ‘Place a bun on each plate.’

Sequential Concepts

Have your child tell you about an event or activity he/she did using sequential concepts (ex. ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘then’, ‘last’). You could tell him/her about an event or story using sequential concepts and then have him/her re-tell it. For example, ‘First you were playing on the swings, next you went to the sandbox, and then you came into the house’ and have your child re-tell what you told them.

Categories, questions, directions, and sequential concepts are just a few ways to help your child build their language while being outside. Working on these skills can be fun and the change of weather presents many opportunities to do so!

Interoception, what is it and how do I improve it?

by FS&TS

By Kristin Connell, OTR/L

What is interoception?

Your stomach is grumbling, your mouth is dry, your heart is racing, your fists are clenched.  This is your internal system signaling your brain that you are that you are hungry, thirsty, nervous or angry.   You are using your interoceptive system to be aware what of what your body is telling you.

Interoception an internal sense, and the the 8th sense in our sensory system (see previous Vestibular and Proprioceptive posts for information on the 6th and 7th senses).

It is the signalling and perception of internal body sensations and emotions. The receptors inside our body, organs, muscles, skin, etc send their signals to the brain.  The brain interprets these messages for us to feel body states such as hunger, thirst, pain, temperature and emotions.

This system is important because when we feel a certain way, your body responds (ie. stomach grumbling-you eat, you feel nervous-you find comfort, etc).  If we feel our internal system is “off”, we try to change the imbalance by doing something.

Many people with sensory processing disorder, autism or developmental delays do not have good interoceptive awareness, therefore are not aware of their body’s sensations or emotions. Bringing awareness to these feelings will improve independence with self care skills, self regulation, perspective taking and problem solving.

How do I improve it?

Interoception is a topic that has only recently been researched and written about, so currently there is limited information on the best ways to improve this area.  Here are the two most effective ways to begin the process of increasing interoception awareness.  

Occupational therapy!

An OT can help improve a child’s body awareness through providing specific sensory input in the clinic and at home to improve the child’s self awareness.

In addition, various programs such as Therapeutic Listening and Integrated Listening Systems (iLS) and Zones of Regulation can improve body awareness and self regulation skills as well.

Body check chart

Older children:

Begin this process with positive experiences like after running around outside, after a warm shower, after a meal, etc.  

Draw an outline of the person.  Label specific parts-head, eyes, ears, mouth, voice, chest, heart, hands, stomach, feet, skin, muscles, etc.

Have the child label one body part and how it feels at that moment (i.e. eyes-sleepy, awake, watery, itchy, dry, etc).  Continue to add body parts and corresponding sensations, depending on the level of the child.

After noticing the sensations of various body parts, give each sensation meaning. For example:

  • when your eyes are watery/itchy, it means you are tired
  • when your heart is beating fast, you may feel nervous or angry about something
  • when your stomach makes a grumbly noise, it means you are hungry

As the child continue to progress, have them match different body states or emotions to their specific body sensations. (i.e. Nervous: hands sweaty, heart racing, legs moving, stomach fluttery)

Younger children:

Trace their body on a large piece of paper.  Point to a body part on the drawing and have them wiggle it on their own body to build body awareness.  You could also play a game of Simon Says to build awareness: touch your heart, clench your fists, breath really fast.


During a body state/emotion-label the body sensations you see, in a non judgmental way (your hands are wiggling, you are breathing fast), and write it on the drawn body. This will help bring about awareness to their sense of self and begin to understand their body’s signals.

Road Trip Survival Guide

by FS&TS

By Jennafer Young, OTR/L

REST STOPS:

For any trip longer than 2 hours, plan a rest stop to stretch, use the bathroom, and let the kids run off some energy. For extended road trips, plan to stop approximately every 2 hours. Factor the extra time into your travel estimate to avoid stress for yourself and meltdowns from the backseat.

ENTERTAINMENT:

Pack an activity bag with simple, preferred toys and some cheap new toys. You may want to customize a bag for each child. Examples: Silly putty, finger puppets, Etch-A-Sketch, Mad Libs, new crayons, and matchbox cars.

COMFORTS:

Bring along any portable calming objects or strategies you or your therapist have found for your child. Whether it’s a favorite blanket, weighted vest, or preferred music, these familiar comforts can help your child prevent or recover from a meltdown in the car (or the destination).

SMART SNACKS:

Hungry kids are usually grumpy kids. Beyond keeping their bellies satisfied, chewy and crunchy snacks can providing calming oral input. Just like a baby is calmed by sucking a pacifier, so many kids - from a  toddler to a teenager - can be calmed by chewing or sucking. Examples: Dried fruit, gum, GoGurt, hard mints, lollipops, nuts, carrot sticks, licorice, gummy bears.

TOY-FREE GAMES:

Use classic car games to keep your child interested in driving - not just stopping. Games like “I Spy,” the Alphabet Game, or Car Bingo can be adapted for different ages.


TIMING:

Time of day or night can significantly impact the ease of your car ride. Do your kids sleep well with the rhythmical movement of the car? Traveling at naptime or bedtime may make the trip go more smoothly. If your child does not sleep well in the car, try to avoid natural sleeping times so you do not have a sleep-deprived child while you navigate the road trip.

5 Valentine's Day Books for Speech Therapy

by FS&TS

by Emily Jung, MS/CCC-SLp

Looking for some good books for Valentine's Day?  Our speech language pathologists find these to be great for developing language skills:  

Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse!

A great book for teaching pronouns and verbs.

There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Rose!

A repetitive, rhyming book great for building vocabulary.

Llama Llama I love You

A rhyming book with several different action words.

Where Is Baby’s Valentine?

A fun lift-the-flap book with lots of prepositions.

Counting Kisses

A great book for labeling and identifying body parts and counting.

Building a snowman (and language) at the same time

by FS&TS

by Emily Jung, MS/CCC-SLP

A fun winter activity for children is building a snowman.  Building a snowman can also be a great activity to work on expressive and receptive language.  There are a variety of concepts that can be targeted while making the snowman.  Here are a few ideas!

snow-woman-1224041_1920-3.jpg

Snowman Language: Following Directions:

  • Roll the ball
  • Put the ball on top
  • Find two stick
  • Put the hat on
  • Put the carrot in the middle

 

Snowman Language: Sequencing:

  • First roll the ball
  • Next put the ball on top
  • Last put the hat on

Snowman Language: Size Concepts:

  • Small, medium, large
  • Big, bigger, biggest

Snowman Language: Prepositions:

  • On top
  • Middle
  • Under/Bottom
  • In
  • On

Snowman Language: Other Concepts:

  • Body Parts (head, arms, eyes, nose, mouth)
  • Clothing Items (hat, scarf)
  • Shapes (snowball is a circle, carrot is a triangle)
  • Colors (snow is white, carrot is orange)
  • Temperature (snow is cold, snow melts when it’s hot)

 

What to do if you can’t make a snowman outside:

 

Bring a small amount of snow inside to make a mini snowman

Make a Play doh snowman

Make a snowman using paper, scissors, and glue

Use shaving cream or whipped cream

Make a snowman snack with marshmallows

 

Popular Toys for Children with Developmental Delays

by FS&TS

By Jolene Law, MS/CCC-SLP

Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. While many children easily engage in functional and appropriate play skills with a variety of toys, others require assistance in physically engaging with toys. Below is a list of our favorite interactive, cause-effect toys that target several language skills.

toys.jpg

Fisher-Price Go Baby Go Poppity-Pop Musical Dino

Description: Poppity Pop Musical Dino helps encourage and reward child, includes an adorable Dinosaur character and 6 brightly colored balls. Child is rewarded with over 8 fun tunes and silly sound effects while helping child to understand cause and effect of actions.

Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, color identification, requesting (ball, more, go) or specific colors, concepts of on/off, in/out.

Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Smart Stages Piggy Bank

Description: 40+ sing-along songs, tunes & phrases. Two levels of play offer fresh songs, phrases & sounds for your child’s age & stage. Drop coins into the piggy's back or belly.

Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, color identification, requesting (money, more, mine, me) or specific colors, concepts of on/off.

Tolo Toys Roller Ball Run

Description: A visually stimulating cause and effect toy. Balls roll down the ramp.

Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, color matching and identification, requesting (more, ball, hammer, mine) or specific colors.

Playskool Explore N' Grow Busy Ball Popper

Description: Lively air-powered, ball-poppin’ toy features fun, upbeat music and comes complete with five balls.

Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, color identification, requesting (ball, more. go) or specific colors, concepts of on/off, in/out.  

Wiggly Giggly Ball By ToySmith

Description: Wiggle and giggle activity ball for kids, designed to make noises when its turned and rolled which is powered by the child, not batteries and is soft and squeezable for little hands.

Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, practice turn taking by rolling/tossing the ball back and forth, concepts of on/off, target a variety of actions such as throw, catch, roll, kick.

Melissa & Doug Nesting Blocks - Numbers, Shapes, Colors

Description: A set of 10 colorful nesting and stacking blocks with illustrations featuring animals, numbers, shapes, and colors. Made of durable cardboard construction.

Targets: Great for hand-eye coordination, number recognition, problem solving, and construction play. Stack the blocks and practice knocking them over while practicing exclamatory reactions such as “Kaboom!” or “Oh no!”

Melissa & Doug Farm Animals Sound Puzzle

Description: An 8-piece wooden peg puzzle with sturdy wooden puzzle board with a full-color matching picture under each piece

Targets: Eye- and ear-catching puzzle enhances matching and listening skills while aural reinforcement helps children play independently, reinforces animal noises while targeting fine motor skills.

Jelly BeadZ Water Bead Gel
 

Description: Orbeez are wet and wacky, soft and squishy, fun and funky, bouncy and beautiful. They start off hard and tiny. Add water and watch them grow to more than 100 times their volume.

Targets: Fill a bin with these water based beads and hide toys in the bin. Target sensory skills while digging into the bin and find and label the items.

Playskool Explore 'N Grow Busy Gears

Description: Colorful, captivating set of gears that spin as twinkling lights flash while fun music plays.

Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, color identification, requesting (more, go) or specific colors, concepts of on/off.

Magnetic Yoyo Gyro Wheel Light-Up Rail Twirler Musical Rainbow Spinning Toy, Blue

Description: A musical rainbow spinning toy.

Targets: Fill-in-the-blank “Ready, set (go)!”, requesting (more. go), concepts of on/off, up/down.

Adaptive Tech Solutions

  1. Select a switch that is easy for your child to use.

Switch: The Jelly Bean twist offers Ablenet's original Jelly Bean's 2.5-inch activation surface with tactile and auditory feedback, but with a twist. The switch tops can be removed and replaced with the color of your choice (included): Red, Blue, Yellow, or Green.

2. Select an adaptable toy that is interchangable with switches.

Clip Fan: This awesome switch adapted clip fan has soft blades with 64 exciting light show effects. Fan has a flexible gooseneck that lets it bend easily in any direction. The jumbo clip allows it to attach to a wide variety of surfaces, including wheelchair trays & table tops edges. Perfect for teaching cause-effect, visual stimulation, or just plain fun! For seizure-prone individuals, lights can be switched off without affecting the fan operation

10 Speech & Language Books to read to your child

by FS&TS

Books are a great gift for children for many reasons. While reading is a wonderful way to create a strong bond with your child, it also has many benefits to increase speech and language skills. Early reading for toddlers has been linked to a better grasp of the fundamentals of language while learning critical language and articulation skills. By listening to you read their favorite books, your child is reinforcing the basic sounds and words that form language. Below is a list of books that specifically target language development.

Read More

Everyday Sensory: Making Sense of the Vestibular System

by FS&TS

By Jennafer Young, MS, OTR/L

“All this talk about vestibular input is making my head spin!”

Did you catch the pun? Sorry, I couldn’t resist. In a previous post I’ve talked about how easy it is for OTs to get caught up in confusing jargon as we describe your child’s sensory needs. Today I want to remove some of the dizzying terminology by jumping into a concrete explanation of the vestibular system. Ok, enough with the cheesy vestibular-puns. Let’s make some sense of this unusual term.

What is the vestibular sense?

The “vestibular sense” is just another one of your senses. In everyday life we talk about 5 senses, but in actuality we have at least 7 senses: sight, taste, sound, touch, smell, proprioception, and vestibular. (For more on proprioception, see the blog post titled Everyday Sensory: Making Sense of Proprioception.)

Basically, the vestibular sense is your sense of balance...movement...speed...where your head is located in relation to gravity. If you bend down to pick something up off the floor, you know you are upside-down because of your vestibular system. When you spin on a tire swing, that feeling of dizziness is sensed by your vestibular system. When you change your speed from fast to slow, keep your balance on a rocking boat, or even feel carsick, those sensations come from your vestibular system telling your brain about your body’s movement in relation to gravity. This awareness of your movement, speed, and balance is sensed by receptors in your inner ear, and then relayed to your brain through the same nerve that carries auditory (sound) input from your ear.

Why does the vestibular sense matter?

The vestibular sense is what lets you sort out the difference between up and down, spinning and stationary, fast and slow. These sensations are necessary for keeping yourself upright in a moving world and for coordinating safe and controlled movements. Because of the pathways in the brain where vestibular information travels, the vestibular system is also a key player in keeping you alert, controlling posture, and even regulating emotions.

Why does my child seek or avoid vestibular input?  

People have different levels of sensitivity to each type of sensory input. Just like one person may perceive a food to taste spicy while another finds it bland, so some people are more or less sensitive to vestibular input. Some kids are highly sensitive to vestibular input and may become carsick easily or be afraid to let their feet leave the ground. Other kids can’t seem to get enough movement because they have a low sensitivity to vestibular input. To make up for it, they are constantly spinning on the tire swing, jumping into the pool, and rolling down the hill. This more intense movement helps them experience the input they are craving. Others may feel that same level input from less intense movement (like a rocking chair or a slow bike ride).

What activities provide vestibular input?

Any movement-based activity triggers the vestibular system to send messages to the brain about where we are in relation to gravity. But activities that include spinning, head movement, and changes in speed are especially rich in vestibular input.

Here are some activities that provide a lot of vestibular input:

  • -Running, skipping, jumping

  • -Swinging on a playground swing or tire swing

  • -Riding the Merry-Go-Round or See-Saw

  • -Riding a bike

  • -Rolling down the hill

  • -Rocking in a chair or hammock

  • -Jumping on the trampoline

  • -Bouncing on a hippity hop ball

Holiday Food Exploration

by FS&TS

By Jessica Naiberg, OTR/L

Holidays and changing seasons are natural times to explore new foods due to the changing seasonal produce and meals.

 

For our children, this change can be exciting AND scary. Playing with food is one way we can encourage our kids to explore new or non preferred food items.  

Activities to encourage Food Exploration

  • Flying food like an airplane

  • Playing peek-a-boo with food placed under a napkin

  • Making art with food.

  • “Painting” with applesauce using a pretzel stick or creating “food art” by making pictures on a plate is a great way to increase exposure through sight, touch and maybe even taste.

Encouraging Flexibility by Changing Shapes

To enhance flexibility around food and encourage adventurous eating, one of the first steps is to alter the appearance of already preferred food items. This strategy can be as basic as cutting a sandwich diagonally, instead of vertically, or as complex as creating food art with familiar food.

Thanksgiving and other holidays are great times to borrow food art ideas from Pinterest or blog posts.

Everyday Sensory: Making Sense of Proprioception

by FS&TS

By Jennafer Young, MS, OTR/L

I’ll be the first to admit that we occupational therapists like to throw around a lot of “sensory jargon.” You may nod and smile and think it all makes sense while we chatter about your child’s vestibular system, oral-seeking behaviors, proprioceptive calming strategies, and sensory diet. But when you try to explain your child’s needs and strategies to teachers, PCAs, or other family members, you realize it’s not quite as clear as you thought in the clinic. Let’s hit pause and try to break down one of these terms into real language - language you can feel comfortable using to teach grandparents or daycare providers how to best support your child. Today we’ll start with the longest word: proprioception.

What is proprioception?

“Proprioception” is just another one of your senses. Usually we talk about 5 senses - sight, taste, touch, sound, and smell. Well in the OT world, there are 7 senses, and proprioception is number 6. (Vestibular sense is number 7, but that’s a topic for another day.)

In a nutshell, the sense of proprioception is the sense of where your body is. Close your eyes and think about your body - do you still know where your left arm is, even though you can’t see it? Can you reach up and touch your ear with your eyes closed? That’s because of your sense of proprioception. This awareness of your body is picked up by receptors located in your muscles and joints. Whenever you move (and amazingly, even when you stand still!), these receptors send messages to the brain to let you know where each part of your body is positioned and how it is moving.

Why does proprioception matter?

By giving you a sense of body awareness, proprioception prepares you to move in a smooth and coordinated fashion. After all, if you’re not sure where your body is, it would sure be tough to coordinate your arms, legs, and trunk to complete movements like running, jumping rope, or climbing on the jungle gym! Having a good sense of proprioception also helps with safety awareness because you know where you are in relation to your surroundings. This helps keep you from bumping into people and objects around you.

Why does my child “seek proprioception”?

In regard to the other senses, we might say someone has “keen eyesight” or is “not very sensitive to smells.” Similarly, some kids are highly aware of their bodies (high proprioceptive sense), and some have low awareness (low proprioceptive sense). For those with low awareness, it takes a more powerful proprioceptive input for them to feel it. This more intense input could seem painful to us, but it is “just right” for the child with a lower sensitivity to proprioception. Does your child love to jump, roll, crash, or purposefully fall? He or she is probably trying to naturally get the proprioceptive input needed to sense the position of his/her body.

What activities provide proprioceptive input?

Activities that require your the muscles to work hard or add pressure to the joints are rich proprioceptive activities. By loading your joints or muscles with weight (“heavy work”), you can cause the receptors there to send lots of strong messages to the brain about where your body is!

Here are some activities that provide a lot of proprioceptive input:

  • -Animal walks (bear walk, crab walk, wheelbarrow walk, etc.)

  • -Tug-of-war

  • -Crawling through a mountain of heavy pillows/blankets

  • -Pulling a sled loaded with snow or sand or another child

  • -Wearing ankle weights or wrist weights while playing

  • -Monkey bars or climbing on the jungle gym

  • -Pushing the grocery cart

  • -Swimming

  • -Making snow angels

  • -Kneading or stirring thick foods

  • -Laying on the belly while propped up on elbows or hands (e.g. while watching TV, coloring, etc.)

Managing Sensory Challenges at Halloween

by FS&TS

By Brenna Patterson, OTR/L

Halloween can be an exciting, anticipated event for many kids. Some kids love to pretend to be their favorite superhero or princess, or get to dress up for a whole day. For some kids, though, this may be an overwhelming and challenging experience with new sounds (sometimes spooky!), people looking different than normal, and having to tolerate a lot of textures over the course of the holiday (pumpkin “guts,” rough costumes, masks, etc.).

There are some ways that you can prepare your child with sensory challenges for this holiday so it’s an enjoyable experience for everyone! Some preparatory planning can go a long way to support everyone’s experience on the special day.

Costumes:

Sometimes a mask may be overwhelming, especially for a child who cannot tolerate tactile textures on their face for extended periods of time. The same goes for face paint! If the child’s preferred costume requires either of these options, perhaps ease them into this experience by role playing or allowing the child to wear them for brief amounts of time, increasing the amount of time leading up to the trick or treat day. There are a variety of costumes that don’t require a mask, or maybe just requires a hat. For example, a train conductor (perhaps Sir TopHam Hat), a pumpkin, a princess, a doctor, or a fireman. Children with sensory processing challenges may have difficulty with certain fabric textures touching their skin. One strategy is putting a soft cotton shirt on underneath (and if going outside, this will help stay warm as well!).

Children may also have difficulty with the increases in noise with a lot of peers, adults, or music used during parties and trick or treating. You could get creative with their costume choice, selecting a costume that may use headphones that you could incorporate noise-cancelling headphones into. For example, a DJ, a pilot, or a race car driver.

There are now many events for trick-or-treating around communities that occur in daylight, which may be a good alternative to trick-or-treating at night for a child that does not respond well to darker lighting. Trick-or-treating in the dark may be extra intense when approaching unfamiliar homes in your neighborhood. Some strategies for creating a positive trick-or-treating experience for a child sensitive to lighting would be attending the earlier trick-or-treating events in the community, trick-or-treating early at familiar homes (family or friends), or participating in trick-or-treat for the first half hour. You can always gauge how your child is responding to the event and extend or limit the amount of homes you go to as well! You know your child best.

Finally, for the child attending a party or having a classroom event with costumes and lots of kiddos and fun activities, make sure that there is an area that your child can go to for some quieter alone time if they get overwhelmed. Having this area in mind ahead of time will help you feel prepared and make your child feel at ease if they need to take a break. Maybe include some halloween books, puzzles, or coloring sheets for them to complete in this area so they feel included in the festivities as well.

Everyday Language: Sugar Cookie Activity

by FS&TS

by Rebecca Walton, MS/CCC-SLP

We all know that kids love to help, and that they especially love to help in the kitchen. Here are some ideas for providing lots of models for new vocabulary and to practice following directions while making sugar cookies at home. The best part about it is that your child won’t even realize that they are working on something because they’re having so much fun making cookies!

 

You can start with mixing the batter and target following directions by having your child give you the ingredient you ask for, or by giving you the utensil that you need. This also works on increasing expressive and receptive vocabulary skills by exposing them to new things including the kitchen utensils and tools and the cookie ingredients.

Examples of directions:

  • “Open the refrigerator and get the egg carton.”
  • “Get a spoon out of the drawer.”
  • “Get the spoon and stir the flour and sugar together.”
  • “Take the dough out of the bowl and put it on the counter”

Examples of teaching actions:

  • “Open the drawer, package, bag.”
  • “Pour the flour in the bowl”
  • “Stir the ingredients”
  • “Scoop the flour”
  • “Roll the dough”
  • “Cut the dough”
  • “Push the cookie cutter”
  • “Spread the icing”
  • “Pour the sprinkles”

Examples of the vocabulary you can teach:

  • flour

  • sugar
  • salt
  • eggs
  • ingredients
  • bowl
  • spoon
  • spatula
  • mixer
  • rolling pin
  • cookie sheet
  • oven
  • timer
  • sprinkles
  • icing

Once the cookies are baked, you can have fun decorating them. You can take turns giving directions to your child to decorate them, and they can give directions to you for how they want you to decorate the cookies.  This can work on colors, shapes, and following directions again.


“Put some pink icing on the cookie and then put green sprinkles”
“Make a circle with the icing and put the sprinkles inside the circle”

Incidental Teaching to Promote Initiating Communication

by FS&TS

By: Jenna Steinbach. MS/CCC-SLP

 

Incidental teaching involves manipulating your child’s environment to promote the natural teaching of targeted goals.  While it can be used for a variety of language goals, incidental teaching is particularly effective in promoting initiation.  Incidental teaching has four main steps:

  1. The environment is arranged to set the occasion for a child’s response
  2. Parent waits
  3. If necessary, child is prompted
  4. Child responds

Here are three simple ideas to manipulate the environment to promote initiating communication:

1.     Place desired toys within sight, but out of reach. By placing preferred toys within your child’s sight, that will motivate them to want to play with it, but because they can’t reach it, they will need to communicate with you.  After your child points to, or reaches towards the object, you can either target asking for help, or target the vocabulary word by labeling the wanted item (car, bear, etc).

2.     Place toys in clear, hard to open containers. Again, your child will be able to see the object and this will motivate them to want to play with it. If your child cannot open the container, they will need to request assistance.  Let your child struggle for a bit, and if they do not ask for help spontaneously, prompt them by asking, “Do you need help?” You can then model the sign for help, or again verbally model “help” and request them to imitate.

3.     Give one piece of a toy and withhold the other parts. Puzzles, blocks, and other toys with manipulatives are great for this technique. When your child wants the next piece of the toy, he or she will need to communicate that to you. You can then label the item and ask your child to imitate, or request that your child say/sign “more.”

Saving your Back with the Back-to-School Backpack

by FS&TS

By Jennafer Young, MS, OTR/L

As the kids are heading back to school, it’s amazing how quickly their backpacks fill up with supplies...lunch, textbooks, homework, craft supplies, gifts from friends, an extra sweatshirt, prizes from teachers, crumpled papers and forgotten bits of something-or-other that mysteriously collect in the great chasm known as the “bottomless backpack.”

FS&TS

What begins as a light load quickly transforms into an overweight backpack that can cause back pain or injury for your child. The risk of injury is compounded by kids’ tendencies to sling the backpack over one shoulder or walk in a slouched position to compensate for the rear-heavy weight distribution.

Overweight backpacks have the ability to cause low back pain, shoulder pain, and even deformities in the natural curves of the back. With enough rest breaks and a reasonable load, these aches and pains can be avoided or healed. So as you and your child prepare the backpack, here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

Select the right sized backpack

Backpacks that are overly roomy lead to a poor fit on the child. Plus, if the space is available, they’ll probably fill it with unnecessary items & weight! As a tip, the backpack should not be wider or longer than the child’s torso.

Choose an ergonomic backpack

Wide, padded straps are a must-have for spreading the weight and preventing the straps from digging into the shoulders. Added chest or hip straps are helpful for older children with textbooks, in order to further distribute the weight.

Prioritize the weight

The American Chiropractic Association recommends that backpacks weigh no more than 5-10% of your child’s body weight.* Do you have a 60lb 3rd grade daughter? Her backpack should only weigh 3-6 pounds...that adds up quickly! Before you slip in that extra notebook and pair of play shoes, grab the scale and check it out!

Wear it right

Tighten the straps so the bag sits firmly against your child’s back, rather than sagging (note: the bag should not hang more than 4 inches below your child’s waist). Encourage your child to use BOTH straps of the backpack whenever carrying the bag. Even if the walk to the bus is a short jaunt, help him or her make a habit of donning both straps. If they’re not doing it when they leave home, they’re probably not doing it at school either.

*http://www.acatoday.org/Patients/Health-Wellness-Information/Backpack-Safety

Language Activities with Play-Dough

by FS&TS

by Emily Jung, MS/CCC-SLP

Play-Dough is a great activity to facilitate a variety of language concepts with children.  It offers an inexpensive way to target expressive language, receptive language and even articulation.  Here are some ideas for fun with Play-Dough during therapy or at home!

 

Requesting with Play-Doh:

  • Cookie cutters (Do you want the duck or the cow?) 
  • Different color Play-Dough (Can I have blue?)
  • Tools- scissors, pizza cutter, cookie cutters, rollers, spoon/fork, other utensils

Following Directions with Play-Doh:

  • Roll the ball
  • Put the circle in the cup
  • Give me the duck
  • Cut the pizza and put it on the plate

Verbs with Play-doh:

  • Roll
  • Cut
  • Squeeze
  • Push
  • Smash
  • Open
  • Close
  • Take out, etc.

Vocabulary/Concepts with Play-doh:

  • Prepositions- in, out, on, off, under, on top, etc.
  • Size words- big, little, biggest, smallest, etc.
  • Quantity- one, two, some, more, etc.
  • Shapes/Colors

Imitation with Play-doh:

  • Sounds- animal sounds, vehicle sounds, etc. 
  • Words- labeling
  • Actions- model a variety of actions with the Play-Dough and have the child imitate
  •  

Answering Questions:

  • What says moo?
  • What can you eat?
  • Which ball is bigger?

Articulation:

  • Make objects out of play-Dough that have your speech sound in it
  • Play-Dough mats targeting specific sounds can be made or downloaded

You can also make your own play-dough for even more language opportunities, including more complex directions and sequencing!  Here is a simple recipe.

Basic Play-Dough Recipe

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 Tbs oil
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tsp food coloring

Pour all dry ingredients together in a saucepan.  Add oil.  Combine food coloring and water.  Add colored water to dry ingredients.  Whisk to remove any lumps and blend all the ingredients.  Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until it becomes thick.  Put play-Dough onto a clean surface and knead until smooth.  When cool, store in a plastic bag or air-tight container to keep it from drying out.

Helping a child with strong emotions and few words

by FS&TS

By Christianna Mullins, MA/CCC-SLP

What happens when a child has difficult expressing his or her thoughts, ideas, wants, and needs with language? Frustration. Children with speech and language disorders may not be able to express their feelings with words, but they will find a way to let those around them know how they are doing. This may look like tantrums in young children. It may look like withdrawal in older children. No matter what the behavior is, the underlying issue is important to identify in order to help the child and those around the child.

What may be reasons that the child is unable to express his or her emotions appropriately?

Articulation difficulty

The child's speech may be so hard to understand that other people cannot clearly comprehend what he or she is saying. When asked "what" 2 or 3 times, the child may shut down or begin crying.

Expressive language

The child may not have the grammatical structure to put together a phrase or sentence to adequately express feelings. A limited vocabulary may not include emotion words yet, such as "sad," "hungry," or "sleepy."

Some children have difficulty communicating verbally.  They may have even more difficulty communicating when they are stressed or emotionally upset.

Receptive Language

The child may not comprehend the question "How are you feeling?"

Pragmatic Language

The child may not have the social abilities to appropriately explain his or her thoughts and feelings in an expected way, and may simply scream when ramped up, rather than calmly explaining the need.

Teaching Emotion Vocabulary

So, what are some solutions to these issues? Being assessed by a speech and language pathologist is essential for a child who is unable to effectively communicate at an expected level for his or her age. Speech-language therapy can help with these communication difficulties.

Some things to try at home, however, include written choices, pictures, and drawing.

Written choices of feeling words, including the basics: "happy, sad, mad, hungry, sleepy, scared," along with parent education of situations in which the child may be feeling these, can be very helpful. The child can then point to the feeling chart when experiencing a strong emotion, to help the adult and child form a plan together.

Pictures of children displaying different emotions (aided with words if developmentally appropriate) can be a comforting choice for a child who needs a peer to "understand" him or her. These picture charts can easily be found in google images. 

A feeling chart with colors listed can help, too. Blue may mean sad, red could mean angry, yellow could equate to happy, etc. Families can create their own color chart. Once again, this can aid the child in identifying feelings in a non-confrontational, safe way. 

Along with the help of a speech-language pathologist, children who do not have very many words, but do have strong feelings may be assisted with these strategies. Along with their parent's modeling feeling words for them, the child will be well on his or her way to effectively communicating emotions.