Back to School Tips

School Days

School Days

This is a re-blog of one of our most popular posts on preparing for school….enjoy!

School already?!?!  Yes, it’s that time of year. When I saw that first back to school commercial, the anxiety of preparing for school came upon me. I knew that the transition from shorts to pants, from casual dress to uniform, from free-time to structured learning was approaching quickly. It seemed as though I just transitioned the kids into summer activities and they were finally comfortable with the routine. No matter, school and end of summer arrives whether we (and our children) are ready or not. This is life-transitions are always approaching-some are easy while some aren’t.

Never fear! The Pocket Occupational Therapist is here with some tried and true suggestions for your family. Anxiety comes from not knowing what is coming ahead. Giving your child control of anything possible is a good way to build confidence and decrease worry.

1) Lay out pants, dress shirts, or school uniforms at least three weeks before school. Habits can take at least 21 days to be broken. Allow your child to shop with you and make choices if possible about school attire. Often times, uniform material is much more stiff and “pinchy feeling” than lighter summer clothing. Make a schedule and encourage your child to wear school clothing for a brief time each day and gradually work up the time. Be sure to offer a reward for a job well done! Having another child such as a sibling or friend complete this activity with your child can be especially fun.

2) Do not wait until the last-minute to purchase school supplies. Take your child to the store and allow him to make choices of color of notebooks, folders, brand of pencils, etc. Any choice you are able to give your child encourages feelings that he’s in control of the situation. This is important as so many aspects of school are beyond his control.

3) Ask your child to help you to label items. This is a good way to practice writing his name. Allow him to choose the color of the marker. Use of an “old-fashioned” label maker is a good way to increase hand strength. Squeezing the tool can work those hand muscles.

4) Obtain the daily school schedule and post it on the refrigerator or a centrally located area. Review the schedule daily and use words such as, “It’s 9:00 now. When you are in school you will be in reading class with Mrs. Jane.” Do this frequently throughout the day.

5) Begin to practice handwriting and keyboarding with your child. Have him help you to make the grocery list, daily schedule, or write cards to relatives. Making handwriting fun is important to build confidence and strengthen those hand muscles in preparation for school.

6) Begin bedtime routines at least three weeks prior to school. It won’t be easy so do not fret! Gradually work up to the desired bedtime and make a written “wind-down” schedule of activities that are calming and the bed time routine. Allow your child to help make the schedule and give rewards for every little success. Use calming music, massage, and soothing scents in the bath to encourage the body and mind to relax.

7) Meet with your child’s teacher prior to the first day of school. A trip to his classroom with a camera is an excellent preparation activity. Allow him to take pictures of the classroom, desk, cubby/locker and make a scrapbook of his school and room. We had a child who was extremely fearful of the fire alarm/drill in the classroom. We permitted him to take pictures of the fire alarm and used the Sound-Eaze and/or School -Eaze CDs to listen to the sounds of fire alarms. Giving him the heads-up of what sounds to expect was a good tool to decrease his anxiety of the un-known. Some schools have summer camps. If the school permits it, allow your child to sit in on a camp day/class to get used to the noises and bustle of the classroom. The more preparation you can give your child, the more likely he will be to make a successful transition into the classroom.

8) Encourage your child that he should try his best and that he does not have to be perfect! Mistakes are the best way to show that your child is trying. Review errors with him and encourage him to problem solve. Many of my clients believe that their child is trying his best, but often get too busy with life’s events to take time to reward for the good qualities and times when children succeed. We fill out repeated questionnaires asking what our child’s weaknesses are that we often forget about their strengths.

What activities does your family have to prepare for school? Let us know!!

By- Cara Koscinki MOT, OTR/L

Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist- a handbook for caregivers of children with special needs. Questions and answers most frequently asked to OTs with easy to understand answers and fun activities you can do with your child. Order anywhere books are sold. www.pocketot.com

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Sounds and feelings

ChewPocketOTPromoImagine the sound of your mother’s voice.

What memories/emotions does the sound of popping popcorn bring?

Think of the sound of nails on a chalkboard. How about the sound of a bee buzzing near your  head?

Each sound evokes feelings within us.  Sounds are more than just noise.  Human beings make sense of our world from sound.  In fact, there are nerves in our ears which are connected to areas in our brains which involve memory, emotion, fear, and our basic alertness levels (among many others).  This is why we form feelings that are attached to sounds we hear.  What I find truly amazing is that our body remembers sounds to help us to determine if something is safe or dangerous and then our body reacts in response.  When the auditory system develops appropriately, we learn to make responses that fit the sounds we hear.

Remember that children with autism and with sensory integration/processing dysfunctions can have difficulty with forming a response to something that they sense.  When children hear sounds, they form an association.  For most of our children with hearing sensitivity, a loud sound they have heard in the past may have produced a fear reaction or, “fight or flight” response.  These sounds are now perceived as dangerous to them.  So many of my clients fear fire alarms because they are loud and unpredictable.  They have difficulty realizing that the fire alarm is meant to protect them.  In fact, for years my own son was so afraid of the fire alarm in hotels that we had to look in the room before actually booking it so that he could see the type of fire alarm being used.  This is not at all practical!  We simply had no idea how to help him.  The same can be said for any sound that may elicit an inappropriate reaction in our children.  We must try to work with them via a social story, empathy, and understanding to create a new or more positive memory of sound.

-It is always wonderful to do a Google search of pictures of fire alarms (or whatever it is that is making the targeted sound).  Print, glue, or draw pictures in the social story and review it often so that your child will be prepared.

-Several forms of earplugs and noise cancelling headphones are available on the internet.

-Encourage your child to list sounds that cause him to be afraid.  Make a plan for each sound.  For example, when he hears a siren, he can cover his ears, count to ten and take deep breaths.  Practicing in advance will help to give him confidence and lessen anxiety.

-Work with your child’s therapist to form strategies.  Fun CDs like Sound-Eaze and School Eaze are available on Amazon. The CDs have sounds set to gentle rhythm and vocals to help make sounds more tolerable. They are not part of any listening program and are a therapeutic tool.

-Therapeutic brushing and sensory activity diets can also help children to maintain regulation.

-Formal programs such as Therapeutic Listening may be used by occupational therapists to help integrate the sensory system.

Remember that not everyone is going to tolerate loud sounds. Many people simply need to avoid them when possible.

Please share your stories of fear of sound and what techniques you’ve used.

By- Cara Koscinki MOT, OTR/L 

Mom to two children with SPD and autism.  Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist– a handbook for caregivers of children with special needs.  Questions and answers most frequently asked to OTs with easy to understand answers and fun activities you can do with your child.  Order anywhere books are sold.  www.pocketot.com

Holiday Sensory Overload

Right about now, my kids are on total sensory overload!!

Have you noticed increased stimulatory behavior?  Increased “scripting?”  Increased need for jumping, crashing, deep pressure activities?  This is a normal response to the overload of sensations that come from the holiday season.  Let’s dissect the Christmas tree:

1) It’s new to have a tree inside of your home vs. outside.

2) The smell of a real tree or the materials of an artificial tree….yes, the fake tree has a smell (ask your child with autism!)

3) The lights coming from the tree and bright ornaments cause the brain to process more visual input.

Then there’s the music, Santa in his bright red suit, the excitement of presents, the change in routine in school to special programs, concerts, and parties…..

Please consider that your child may need extra time to process and to complete homework and activities of daily living.  Be patient and try to maintain structure as much as you can.  My son’s need for a visual schedule with rewards is strong every year at Christmas.  Our kids with sensory processing difficulty may not wear the fancy clothing, ties, or sweaters that we’d like for them to….that’s OK!  Let them wear that seamless shirt, sweatpants, or comfy clothing if they want.  Make a nice handout for your family about sensory integration issues if you need to and kindly give it out as needed.  Your child will thank you for understanding and giving them a little extra patience this time of year!!

Please let us know what your child’s struggling with this holiday.  We can help each other out with ideas and suggestions!!

By- Cara Koscinki MOT, OTR/L 

Author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist- a handbook for caregivers of children with special needs.  Questions and answers most frequently asked to OTs with easy to understand answers and fun activities you can do with your child.  Order anywhere books are sold.  www.pocketot.com