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

Developing Skills Through PLAY

Playground FUN

Playground FUN

Occupational therapists are fortunate enough to be a critical part of the treatment team for children with special needs. Any difficulties children may face as a result of having a developmental delay should be addressed by incorporating play into their daily routine. While working with the adult population, occupational therapists focus on remediating skills for daily living and for work related tasks. When assessing the skills of children, the therapist must look at the child’s play skills. After all, when children are not asleep they are learning about their environment through the various play activities they engage in during their day. Even completing the tasks of building blocks, completing a puzzle, and drawing pictures will yield skills that the child will use throughout his lifetime.

The skills, developmental stages, and all activities listed in this blog post can be found in our book The Pocket Occupational Therapist for caregivers of families with special needs. It’s PACKED with easy to read ideas and is like having your OT with you all of the time! Can be purchased on Amazon or anywhere books are sold.

When caregivers attend occupational therapy sessions, most inevitably ask, “Why does it look like you are playing during the session? How is this therapy?” The occupational therapist should explain therapy goals and how she will work to achieve them during the course of therapy. It is important for caregivers to feel comfortable asking questions about activities to complete at home to help to facilitate therapy progress. Most caregivers want to help their child to achieve his goals and are willing to participate if given the chance. It is by asking questions and through home programs given by the therapist that caregivers can be key partners in a child’s success on building skills that will propel him through his lifetime.

The most important thing to remember when working with your child at home is to begin at a level where he can be successful. Each success will help to build his confidence. No one wants to fail at a task and oftentimes, a child with special needs may lack the confidence to re-try something at which he has previously failed. Be sure to watch your child as he plays to determine which activities he prefers. For example, note if he prefers to engage in messy play or dry play. Does he enjoy colors, shapes, letters, or numbers? When seeking items for your home play time, be sure to remember his favorite color or movie character. His excitement will help him to have fun while learning.

Fine-motor coordination involves tasks of the hands and fingers such as holding a writing utensil, using a fork, buttoning, and shoe-tying. It is a good idea to help your child to strengthen his fingers for these tasks. Set up activities that you know he will enjoy and have success with. here are many different types of dough recipes that can be found on the internet. Make some dough and add his favorite color to it with a small amount of food coloring or add glitter. Mix two different colors of dough together and see what colors you can make. The addition of different scented oils can heighten the activity to a new sensory level. Peppermint and vanilla oils are commonly found at the grocery store. Note which scents your child prefers.

Most children love to open and close things. Be sure to save containers of all shapes and sizes. After cleaning them out, place a special prize inside. Ask your child to open each and find the prize. Prizes can be food, pom-poms, treats, or anything that will be motivating for him. Cut a slit in the top of the lid and ask him to put coins or bingo chips inside the container. This will give him the opportunity to develop good coordination skills. Also, use different eye-droppers or a turkey baster to transfer colored water from cup to cup. Switch from hand to hand or have a race to see who can fill the cup up first.

Gross-motor coordination and building up a strong core muscle system will be key factors in determining success with future activities such as bicycle riding, hopping, and playing sports in the future. Even when children are infants, supervised tummy time is important to help muscles work against gravity. Place a motivating object near baby so that he has to lift his head to see it. Use lots of praise and encouragement. To help develop core muscle strength as children get older, it is important to revisit tummy time. Ask your child to watch a small portion of his favorite television show while lying on his belly. As he gets stronger build up the time. Pretending to be animals like snakes crawling in the grasslands is a fun game for older kids.

Crawling is a stage often missed by children with developmental delays. The act of crawling helps to strengthens muscles, works to help to integrate the sensory system, and develops coordination of the arms and legs. Often, we need to give extra help to learn to navigate their bodies in the quadruped, or crawling, position. We can get down on the floor with our children and crawl together through mazes made of cushions; under tables; and along paths taped with masking tape. Make sure to encourage fun so that your child doesn’t realize he’s working on skills that may be difficult for him. Allow him to rest when he needs to.

Oral-motor skills are critical to eating, drinking, and speech. Often times the local thrift store is full of affordable tools for building strength in the muscles of the mouth. Straws of different shapes and diameters should be used for drinking or blowing bubbles into a pan of water. Have races by blowing cotton balls and other light items off of the table. The use of age-appropriate whistles is a fun way to get immediate reward as the child learns to produce sounds by blowing. Place whipped crème onto the child’s lips and ask him to look into a mirror and use his tongue to lick it all off. This will help him to strengthen the tongue muscles and become more aware of its movements. Try it with him and have a race. Use different tastes and textures such as chocolate syrup.

As you think about your child, keep in mind that he is a child first and he learns critical skills through playing. It will benefit him many fold if you provide him with opportunities to work on his areas of weaknesses while he has fun doing so. Don’t be afraid, your child is happy spending time with you!

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

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

Dear Bully,

cropped-boyforr2g1.jpgToday you hit my son.  You called him “stupid.”  You said he was a “weirdo.”

It seemed so cool to you to say these things to him in front of your friends.  They all laughed.

Yesterday, you asked a group of children to pummel him with balls during recess.  They all joined in while my son tried to laugh it off.  Yes, you are on a sports team and my son is one of the kids who studies his video games.  He is weak physically compared to you because while you were learning how to toss a ball in your backyard, my son was learning how to speak.  You see Bully, my son was born with autism.  Speech, coordination, social skills, and processing everyday things didn’t come easily for him.  He went to speech therapy two times a week.  He worked in occupational therapy to learn how to eat and chew his food without vomiting.  You were eating all kinds of foods never realizing how much work someone else did to learn to use a fork and spoon.  He spent three months with casts on his feet because his sensory processing issues caused him to walk on his toes and get tight heel cords.  Therapists became his friends because they were who he spent most of his time with.  You were out playing on the playground while my son was sitting on the bench, not knowing the words to say to get other children to play with him.  You were climbing on the monkey bars while my son was conquering his fear of stepping onto the first rung.  His body has trouble processing all of the laughter you and your friends were making.  It sounded painful to him, Bully.  He tried and tried to be like you and when he finally came close and opened up, you said hurtful words to him.  He didn’t expect that.  He expected kindness yet got cruelty.  You looked at him as being weaker than you…….

BUT Bully, I know the truth.  I know how hard my son worked to be “typical” like you.  I know how many dollars were spent on therapy, equipment, weighted blankets, visual aids.  I sat with him as he learned what emotions are.  He watched countless videos on how to make friends.  He practiced over and over and over again with anyone who we could find to play with him….there weren’t many…..He worked to learn to carry on a conversation with you.  He fought through his fear of sounds, sights, and feelings to get into this school with you.  You have NO IDEA what he’s been through.  What his father, sister, brother, and I have been through.  It has not been an easy road.

What you don’t yet see Bully, is that autism is beautiful.  My son is beautiful.  He has qualities that will propel him into wonderful things in his life.  He is bright, sensitive, kind, generous, and a good friend.  He is good at lots of cool things that most kids don’t think about.  His life is a blessing to all of us.  Every baby step he takes is celebrated in our home.  We see him for the unique person he is.

Bully, you think you’re on top now.  I wish you would open your eyes to see differences in everyone.  I wish no harm on you, Bully because someday you may have a child with special needs.  You may have to fight and advocate for your baby like I did- and only then will you truly understand.  I can only pray that your child does not meet a bully like you.

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

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 

Thanksgiving Thanks from Tom Turkey

This Thanksgiving is another special one.  We are blessed to have our family together.  We are blessed that our children have a special nutrition to drink/be fed that is safe and totally hypoallergenic.  Tom the Turkey is especially happy that we saved him this year.  We won’t be purchasing a turkey because our children are both allergic to it.  I’m not opposed to eating turkey and plan on joining our friend’s family for the holiday. But, in our home the smell of g-tube food and Dum-Dum lollipops will prevail.

We are thankful for each precious moment with our children.  It’s not easy to raise children and is even more difficult when they have special needs.  God has blessed us with the opportunity to learn how to use sign language, feeding tube, PECS, and behavior charts.  We have met wonderful therapists, friends, and other parents who have children like ours.  Facebook and blogging have brought us even more helpful connections.  Indeed, we have MUCH to be thankful for.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING from Route2Greatness to your family!!

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 

Tips for Preparing For School

School Days

School Days

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