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!

Making Sense of Sensory Processing

Join us at STEPS for Kids in Yorkville on Tuesday March 29th at 7:00 pm for a FREE Community Education Program!  Debra Johnson will be presenting Differences, Disorders & Diets: Making Sense of Sensory Processing.

This presentation will include an overview of what sensory processing is and how sensory differences affect each of us, review of sensory processing disorders and red flags for identifying SPD and a discussion of how to use sensory based strategies to help with self regulation, task focus and skill performance.

Light refreshments will be served and there will be time to network!  Please contact us at the clinic by phone (630-552-9890) or email (info@rightstepsforkids.com) to register for this presentation.

Getting the word out about SPD

I thought about starting this post with all the reasons why I have not been posting, because I really feel bad about starting this and then being absent.  But what is most important today is the reason that has motivated me to post; a phone call from a parent to tell me that a child was suspended from school.  A first grader suspended because of a meltdown and subsequent attempt to run from school.

This is a child who has received services from the public school system for three years.  A child who was observed by an OT at school last year but was determined to not have OT needs.  A child who received a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation that included a diagnosis but no mention of potential sensory processing issues or need for an OT evaluation.   A child who, until just recently,  was not identified as even possibly having a sensory processing disorder.   Because apparently no one among all the doctors, teachers  therapists or other parents they encountered had ever suggested the idea to his parents.   Until I met them they had never even heard of sensory processing disorder.

When I met this child I suggested to the mother that it appeared to be a case of sensory processing disorder with motor planning problems and poor vestibular processing.  There was clear evidence of a coordination disorder and difficulty moving through space efficiently.  From the mom’s description it sounds like the child also has over-responsiveness to sensory input with poor modulation of behavioral responses to the surroundings.   I suggested some books for her to learn about sensory processing while she waited for the OT evaluation to be completed.  She called me later, ecstatic to tell me that what she was reading “was the key to the puzzle.”  She felt like she finally had something solid to help her understand her child.  She was reading the books and using the suggestions. And they were working.  Behaviors improved, cooperation was better, task performance was better.   She was elated!  But today she was angry.

She was angry because no one had ever seen the behaviors as possibly associated with anything like a sensory processing disorder.  Because she had never heard of it before and the school didn’t know what to do about it.   When I hung up from the call I was struck by how long this child had been “in the system” and yet how needs had been unmet.  Because no one considered sensory processing disorder.  And then I thought of Oprah.

A few weeks ago Oprah had an episode that profiled a young boy who had violent tendencies; it was a wonderful way to bring childhood mental illness in to the public forum.  As many Oprah shows do, this one created a flurry of responses and interest….from the SPD community.  Because within the context of this boy’s story the only condition initially mentioned was “sensory integration disorder.”  There was concern that others would be misled as to what sensory integration or processing disorders look like.  There was a call for a grassroots effort to have Oprah expand on this opportunity to educate others about what SPD is and what it is not.   The hope was to get Oprah to do an entire show on the topic.  Something that the SPD Foundation has been trying to do for a decade.

Through the efforts of the SPD Foundation and all those who contributed with comments and letters, the Oprah website has been modified.  The text of the episode now includes a summary of the conditions that Zach was diagnosed with in addition to SPD.  It also provides a description, albeit a very brief description, of what SPD is and how it impacts on Zach’s life.   And there’s a link on the bottom of the page to the SPD Foundation.  It’s a start.

But is it enough to get the word out about SPD so that kids like the one who got suspended today can get the right services when they really need them?  What if Oprah had actually done a whole episode that focused on SPD?  Would this parent have somehow heard about the condition?  Would she have perhaps watched the show or had contact with someone who did?  Would someone have suggested that maybe her child had this condition so that at least the parent knew what questions to ask?  Would anyone on the team serving this child perhaps have considered whether this condition was driving the behaviors?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But if no one knew about the condition, no one could consider the possibility.  You don’t know what you don’t know, as the saying goes.

Dr. Lucy Miller has been on a mission to get the word out about SPD.  Now, I’m not sure that The Oprah Show is the best way to get the word out.  It certainly isn’t the only way.  But it is one way.  And the more we can get the word out, the better.  It would be great if Oprah would help.   Look what happens when Oprah recommends a book!  Maybe getting SPD talked about on Oprah would get everyone talking about it.  So that what happened to that little first grader might not happen again.  So that parents would know enough to ask “could this be SPD?”

I’m hopeful that some day knowledge of SPD will be commonplace.  Someday looking for SPD related behaviors or motor coordination problems might be a part of routine well baby visits and developmental screenings.  Someday early childhood educators and care providers will all be well versed in recognizing the red flags that signal a potential sensory processing issue.  Someday parents will all understand how sensory processing and sensory motor experiences influence their child’s development, behaviors and learning.  To help reach that point, I’m going to keep on talking and telling others about SPD.  You can help, too.   Let’s keep educating others by reaching out to other parents, asking people to be understanding about sensory based needs,  informing the teachers and the doctors who serve our kids of what we know about SPD.  Don’t stop.  We can spread the word.  We can’t wait for Oprah.

Strategies for Change

It’s a week into the New Year and we are all getting back to routines after the holidays.  How’s your year so far?  I’d like to make my 2011 more peaceful, successful and happier…for myself AND my children.   Here are some strategies I’m going to try to stick to this year, for the sake of my kids.  Maybe they’ll work for you, too.

1) Focus on strengths. It is all too easy to see the problems when you have a child with special needs.   They are listed on the therapy report, the progress chart, the IEP, the doctor’s evaluation.  We focus daily on the impairments and work to “fix” the problem behaviors.  This approach can quickly become overwhelming and depressing.  To decrease stress and improve your outlook try focusing on your child’s strengths instead.  Children need to know that we believe in them.  They need to know that we see who they are and what they are good at.  Focusing on their strengths allows us to see the good in our children when we are otherwise overwhelmed by their needs and problems.  It can strengthen the bond with our child and renew our energy to tackle the difficult times.

To stay focused on strengths try this:  write down at least 3 things you notice that your child is good at or that you really like about your child.  Put the list where you can see it – maybe make a few copies to put in different places.  Look at the list often. Remind yourself several times a day about your child’s strengths, especially when you are feeling discouraged or overwhelmed by behaviors.

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