Babies Positioned for Development: Tips for “Tummy Time”

These days there is a lot of conversation on parent forums, in pediatrician offices, and between friends about babies and sleep habits.  One of the biggest shifts in parenting habits in the US has been the result of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation in 1992 that parents lay babies on their backs for sleeping.  Since that time, infant deaths from SIDS have dropped more than 50%.  But along with that great news, there has been a corresponding increase in conditions such as plagiocephaly (flattened areas on the head) and torticollis (an imbalance in neck muscles).  Furthermore, there has been a rise in the number of infants displaying decreased strength in the trunk, neck and upper body, resulting in delays in gross motor skills.  Research supports the need for parents to be educated in the importance of “tummy time” as a means to support infant development.  Time spent sleeping on their backs, riding in carriers, and sitting in positioning devices has significantly decreased the amount of time babies spend on their tummies, which is crucial to the development of upper body strength and subsequent motor skills.

Why is “tummy time” so important? Continue reading

Choosing the “Just Right” Toys

‘Tis the season for kids wishing, gift giving and shopping!  Lots of parents at our clinic ask for help in choosing toys.  It’s wonderful when you can find that perfect toy that not only meets the child’s wishes but also supports developmental skills – a magical combination, indeed!  So, just in time for your holiday shopping, here are a few tips for finding that special something for your special someone.

1.  Consider you child’s strengths and struggles to choose toys that are best for his or her needs.  Think about what your child loves as well as how your child is able to play with a toy.  Make a list with three categories: What the child loves (interests, motivators, etc), what the child is good at (skills), and what the child needs to work on (weakness, delays).  Then find a balance by providing toys that address each category.  Be sure your child has toys that can be used easily and independently as well as toys that require a little help and present the “just right challenges” in play without frustrating the child.

2.  Pay attention to recommended ages for toys and consider your child’s developmental levels to get a good match.   Remember that a child’s skill levels may be scattered among different developmental areas. For example, your 6 year old may be incredible at doing puzzles and can handle those indicated for ages 10 and up.  But the same child may  struggle with gross motor skills and do better with those types of toys that are recommended for ages 3-5 years.  Remember to advise family and friends of any discrepancies or needs in this regard lest they generalize that your child needs the same level of toys across the board.

3.  Think about how the toy is used and how much flexibility is inherent in the toy related to what your child enjoys and what you want to encourage developmentally.  The best deals for your money are those toys that offer a lot of flexibility in terms of how it can be used. This may mean that the toy can be adapted for play in different ways (for example, modifying board games to simplify rules) or whether the toy addresses many developmental areas.

4.  Make sure that your child’s toys include a variety that provides for quiet time, social interaction, pretend play, motor skills development (gross motor and fine motor), cognitive and perceptual (visual) skills development.  Sometimes children will get “stuck” and ask for only one kind of toy or toys with a very specific focus, such as trains or a favorite movie. It’s up to us as parents to help guide those choices, providing the right mix of toys that open up opportunities for new experiences and learning.

If you are looking for some resources beyond amazon.com or your favorite department stores, here are four sites I love for toy shopping:

Toys R Us has a wonderful Differently-Abled Toy Guide

Achievement Products has a wide variety of toys and gift ideas for special needs

Constructive Playthings has lists by type of toy, age or skill

Fat Brain Toys are wonderful products and they provide a detailed list of toys for special needs.

Infant Massage: The Power of Touch

Every mother waits eagerly for that first moment after their child’s birth to hold the baby close.  For the infant, “being touched and caressed…is food…; food as necessary as minerals, vitamins and proteins” ( Frederick Leboyer ).   Infant massage harnesses the power of touch to bring life-long benefits for both babies and parents.  Early sensory input, emotional and physical bonding are essential for the development of all infants.  Infant massage is a wellness technique that provides a loving touch right from the start.

What is Infant Massage?

Infant massage is a combination of stroking movements that provide massage to the baby’s muscles and positive behavioral reinforcers, including eye contact, vocalizations, facial expressions, and mutual interactions that enhance bonding between parent and child.  The techniques used are based on centuries old practices that have been used by parents in diverse cultures and times.   Parents learn the techniques through instruction provided by certified instructors and then use massage at home as part of a daily routine.   While Infant Massage is incorporated into therapy for children with special needs, it is an excellent tool for well babies and those at risk (ie: premature, immune compromised, etc) that all parents can learn

How important is touch for babies?

Child development research has long ago proven the importance of touch for health and wellness.  Psychologist Harry Harlow’s classic experiment with rhesus monkeys  was crucial in helping us understand just how important infant/mother contact was.  Later research has shown that touch is instrumental in influencing metabolic function, release of hormones and neurochemicals that are critical for growth and development.  Many experts agree on the importance of touch as related to parent/child bond, stimulation of cognitive, social and language development and how it influences growth.  For more information on research specifically related to infant massage, the Touch Research Institute provides a lengthy list.

Continue reading

Keeping a “Grip” on schoolwork

It’s about 6 weeks into school. The progress reports are starting to come home.  The honeymoon is over and the “real work” has started at school.  How is your child faring? Sometimes the underlying issue when a child has difficulty meeting the demands of the school workload is handwriting.  Many children struggle with being able to produce the written work that is required at school. Difficulty with handwriting is a difficult issue to address, especially in an era when many schools are cutting back on or eliminating handwriting instruction.

Handwriting is a complex activity that involves the coordination of many body systems in order to produce an interpretation of language in symbols.  When difficulty with handwriting is evident, it is important to look at the many aspects of handwriting and address the underlying issues that may be affecting handwriting skills.  The suggestions here may help to support your child’s skills by addressing some of the most common areas of difficulty.

VISION

1) Poor acuity, binocular vision (use of both eyes together) and ocular motor skills (voluntary eye movement control) can impact on handwriting skills.  Evaluation by a Developmental Optometrist can help to identify or rule out any vision issues.

2) For copy work, have the child copy in the vertical plane (top to bottom) instead of the horizontal plane (having work side by side).

3) Enlarge the text used for copying. 

4) Reduce of the amount of visual information on a page when copying. Cover some of it up or remove it by making copies of the material being used.

5) Use a highlighter to mark the lines where writing should start and/or stop, highlight spaces intended for words or in between words or to indicate where letters should start.

HAND SKILLS

1) Develop hand strength for grip and endurance for writing by doing fun activities requiring pinch, gripping, squeezing and pulling.  Use squirt guns, play-doh, tweezers, clothespins, and play games with small pieces for manipulation.

2) Practice the correct grip and build pinch strength by using small bits of crayon or chalk that must be held onto with a three point pinch (thumb, index and middle fingers).

3) Play games that require isolated finger movements, including finger songs, games with small pieces or activities like learning sign language.

4) Do warm-ups before handwriting by stretching and “waking up” the hands.

5) Use a slant board to support weak hands when writing: a 3″ three ring binder works well.

6) Use pencil grips when needed. There are many different kinds available.  Try different types to see which works best for your child.

POSTURE

1) Provide the correct seat and table for writing.  Be sure that your child’s feet are resting on the floor and the table is at lower chest level.  If the chair is too big, provide a stool or box for a foot rest.  If it is too deep, use a cushion or pillow at the back as a support.

2)Use alternative seating to encourage upright posture and alertness or to accommodate for weakness that interferes with cognitive focus on writing.  Alternatives are endless and include using a therapy ball as a chair, an air cushion or wedge on the chair, standing up at a table or podium or laying on the stomach.

3) Do warm up exercises or activities before writing.  Do whole body stretches, “chair push-ups”, “wall push-ups”, shoulder rolls and side bends.

4) Provide for “posture breaks” before fatigue sets in. Have the child stand up and move around or change position for writing.

As a parent you can help make homework time an easier time for all by recognizing if the mechanics of producing writing are an underlying problem in the completion of homework.  You can help your child reduce the labor intensity of the task by accommodating for weaknesses and building strength where needed.  If you are concerned your child has issues that you cannot address at home, please consult with your family doctor or pediatrician. An OT evaluation may be appropriate to help pinpoint the causes and provide treatment that can help ease the strain and frustration your child feels when writing.

 

 

 

Developmental Challenges: Walls and Ladders

Yesterday, my conversation with a parent included the topic of discharging her child from OT. This prompted all too familiar questions: But what if he regresses? What if he struggles? A reasonable concern and one that many parents wonder and worry about.  A child may start to have behaviors not observed for some time, perhaps new behaviors crop up or there is difficulty with learning new skills. Sometimes parents think that all the steps forward have now been lost.  I reassured this parent that it isn’t typically a regression per se but more of a response to new challenges. Then I shared what I’ve learned about developmental walls and ladders.

While I would love to take credit for the explanation I use when discussing developmental struggles, I have to give credit where it is due.  Years ago I worked with a wonderful neuropsychologist, Dr. Roger Stefani who used an analogy of walls and ladders to explain what is going on when a child who has been doing well suddenly begins to struggle.  Dr. Stefani referred to it as “growth into deficits” when the child who has been moving along well seems to have developed new problems.  The analogy has stuck with me and I’ve adapted it to fit with what I do in OT.  So here’s my spin on those developmental walls and ladders.Continue reading

Thriving in the Holidays

Here we are in the middle of another holiday season. So much to do and so little time.  I’ve been reading lots of tips for surviving the holidays. But I don’t want to survive them, I want to THRIVE in them!  For so many of us there are just too many changes, too much to do, too much excitement and just “too much.” It’s so easy to slip down that path toward anarchy and chaos while the kids are on break and we are pulled in so many directions.  Here are three things I try to remember throughout the holiday season to help me keep the “happy” in the holidays.

First,  don’t stop what you know is working.  You know what I mean if you have kids who thrive on routine, structure or picture schedules.  This time of year it is so easy to let those things slide.  With changes in the schedule, a wider variety of activities and more events going on, it is hard to maintain bedtime routines and other structure that works to help keep your child well regulated and happy.  But this is the time they need it most!  While you may not be able to stick with it as well as the rest of the year, you can try to keep those things in place around all the new and exciting stuff.

Make a picture schedule for Christmas day, do a social story for attending church or a family party, leave the party a little early so bedtime is not disrupted, be sure your child gets meals at regular times, and give your child the breaks he or she needs to regroup and recharge for the next event.  If your child needs time to prepare then be sure to review expectations, tell them what’s coming up and let them know what they will be doing.  Don’t let vacation from school mean endless hours of unstructured time if your child does better with structure in place.  It’s more effort during an already draining time of year but will pay off in the long run.

Second,  relax and KISS it.  I like to think of KISS as “Keep It Sane & Simple.”  Don’t over schedule yourself or your family. Be realistic about how many parties you can attend, how much excitement your child can handle and whether you can really shop with the kids in tow.  Don’t try to be Supermom; delegate and ask for help.   Trade child care with another mom so each of you can finish up last minute errands.   Relax your expectations of yourself, your kids and the holidays.  Take time to physically and mentally recharge yourself.   Really consider whether you need to do more of anything.  My motto this season is “less is more.”

Which leads me to my last thought.  Keep your priorities straight.  Sounds simple but sometimes we lose ourselves in all this holiday glitz and excitement.  To really thrive in the season you need to focus on and experience what is most important to you and your family.   It doesn’t matter what those priorities are. What matters is that you devote time and energy to the things that make the holidays special and memorable for you.  If you don’t then this season will pass and you will feel drained and disappointed.  So take a look at what matters most to you:  what makes you smile, feel good inside, builds memories or brings back memories?  That’s what you need to include in your holiday plans.   It’s focusing on what matters that makes the difference between surviving the holiday season or really thriving in all that the season brings.

Best wishes from all of us at STEPS for Kids for a joyous holiday!

 

 

Infant Massage at STEPS for Kids in Yorkville!

Do you have an infant between the ages of birth and 6 months?  Have you wondered about the benefits of infant massage and wanted to use the technique for your baby?  Now is your chance to learn how for FREE!

Julia Slocik, PT is offering FREE infant massage classes at STEPS for Kids for a limited time.  As part of the certification process to become a trainer of infant massage, Julia needs to provide instruction to several parents.  If you would like to take advantage of this offer please contact us today by email (info@rightstepsforkids.com) or phone: 630-552-9890 for more details.  Space is limited and time is running out so contact us soon!

Handwriting Camps Start in 10 days! Early Bird rates extended until first day of Camp!

It’s not too late to sign up for our summer Handwriting Camps based on the Handwriting Without Tears program!   Camps are designed to help lay a strong foundation for handwriting by developing visual, perceptual, motor and cognitive skills for writing and increasing your child’s confidence and mastery of writing.

Divided into small groups by age and skill level, children will receive instruction and guidance for skill development within a play oriented hour of activities and socialization.  Classes meet twice a week for 4 weeks and fees include the cost of all materials for the class and home activities.  See our website for the Camp schedule, fees, registration and general information  or call the clinic (630-552-9890)  for more information!

Key Strategies for Building A Healthy Brain – Community Education Program

Please join us on Wednesday, June 22 at 7:00 pm here at the STEPS for Kids clinic in Yorkville for a discussion on ways to support your child’s healthy brain development.  Dr. Patrick Smith, chiropractor and wellness specialist, will be providing information on nutrition, exercise, supplementation, toxins, gluten and how to live healthier in the fast paced, fast food and high tech world.

Light refreshments will be served and there will be opportunity to network with other parents and professionals.   This program is FREE but space is limited. Please call the clinic (630-552-9890) or email us at info@rightstepsforkids.com to reserve your space today!

Physical Therapy, Play Groups and Summer Handwriting Help!

At the risk of being too corny, STEPS for Kids is “springing” ahead with new services!  Take time this spring to plan for summer and take advantage of what STEPS for Kids has to offer!

Julia Slocik, PT has joined our staff and is now available to provide Physical Therapy services for children from birth through adolescence.  Julia brings almost 20 years of experience to the clinic with her most recent experience focusing on pediatric services.  She has special interest in working with infants and toddlers but is equally skilled in working with older children and adolescents.  Julia believes in providing therapy services that address the whole child within the context of family dynamics.  Her treatment approach includes parent education regarding prevention, wellness and development and home exercises or activities that support a child in achieving their physical therapy goals.

Some of the conditions that Julia can address include (but are not limited to) torticollis, plagiocephaly, congential abnormalities or acquired injuries, developmental coordination disorder, toe walking and subsequent orthopedic issues, mitochondrial disorder, hypotonia, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome and general orthopedic conditions.  Please contact the clinic if your child is in need of physical therapy services. Free screening is available to determine whether a full evaluation is appropriate.

If you are looking for summer activities to support your child’s development and wellness check out our summer play groups and Handwriting Camps!  Schedules are available on the website for both play groups and Handwriting Camps.  Registration can be done by mail, fax, email or phone.  Please contact us with questions or to schedule a screening for your child if you are unsure about appropriateness for groups or level for handwriting camp.

Julia and I hope to see you at STEPS for Kids soon!