Looking at TOYS through a therapist’s eyes!

Pocket OT- TOYSChildren of all ages learn skills through engaging in play. After all, when children are not asleep they are learning about their environment through various play activities during their day. They enjoy diving hands first into play experiences! Completing the tasks of building blocks, working a puzzle, and drawing pictures will yield skills that the child will use throughout his lifetime. Occupational therapists are fortunate enough to be a critical part of the treatment team for children with special needs. We have developed a specialty called “activity analysis.” This means we work by looking at how an activity is broken down into smaller steps. Therapists who work with children have become experts in looking at different games and toys to determine which skills a child needs to complete them. When the therapist finds a weakness in a particular skill, we can “prescribe” different games or toys to help improve the skill. It is a fun job to have, indeed!
Children are wired to use their senses to develop skills during play. A toy that gives the child something interesting that involves more than one sense will automatically be more enjoyable to him. More pathways to brain development are opened and used. Here is a list of things therapists look at when evaluating a toy:

fbpocketotresized-copy.pngOut of the POCKET Ideas!

• What does the toy feel like? What is the texture-soft, smooth, rough, hard?
• Does the toy have a scent to it? For example, certain dolls smell like fruits.
• Is the toy colorful? Are the colors bright and bold or pastel and dull?
• Does the child need both hands to manipulate the toy?
• Does the child need to read or recognize letters and numbers to enjoy the toy?
• Is there a lot of figure-ground information? Examples of toys where the ability to
determine what is in the front or background would be mazes, Eye Spy, Puzzles.
• Does the toy make noise?
• Is it a “social” toy? Like a doll house or card games.
• Does the toy require long periods of attention? Board Games
• Does the toy move, vibrate, or shake?

The list above contains a few areas we look at when examining a particular toy. Here’s an example of an analysis of a toy: A child receives a game of Hi Ho Cheery-O. He needs to be able to sit on floor or table for at least 10 minutes to play the game (control of his body) (attention); must be able to refrain from placing the small cherry manipulative into his mouth (impulse control) (age-appropriate mouthing), be able to count (number/cognitive (thinking) skills); be willing to interact with another player (social skills); be able to pick up and place the small cherries into the bucket (fine motor/coordination); be able to place the cherries into the correct colored bucket (color recognition); and be willing to accept that he may win or lose the game. Everyone knows that there are ages listed on most games, but they don’t think much about what skills are necessary and at what age those skills develop.

Remember to think about your child’s developmental age and not her ACTUAL age. For example, she may be 7 but her speech, fine motor skills, and thinking may be delayed by two years. Toys should be purchased for an 5 year old, then and not a 7 year old. Make sure that the toy is not too easy for her or she will become bored with it. I would encourage you to review the tips above and take your child on a fun visit to the toy store to see what interests her. Teacher supply stores are also full of ecuational treasures. Therapy catalogues and on-line stores such as FunandFunction offer wonderful toys in a way that’s easily searched and at reasonable prices.

Need helpful handouts?  The Pocket Occupational Therapist offers helpful FREE and for a fee handouts and webinars for you!  Also, we are having a SALE on our store items including our best-selling CDs for children who fear loud noises.  You can now purchase individual tracks, such as Fire Alarm and Thunder!  Enter 7EW6M8S9 for 20% off of your order and feel free to share.

It’s important for our children to be successful with a toy to build their confidence for learning newer, more difficult skills!

HAPPY SHOPPING!

~Cara
By- Cara Koscinski 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. http://www.pocketot.com

5 Strategies to Focus on Your Child’s Positive Traits….

Positivity!Yesterday I was working with my son on a Social Skills app.  This has become a daily part of our routine…..Those with typical children may take for granted the social skills that our kids struggle with and must work to learn.  I spend a-lot of time and effort with my boys who have special needs working on what doesn’t come naturally so that they can have what I feel will be a better life.  As usual, I was proven wrong by my son. Just because these kiddos have to go to therapy, countless appointments, and work a little harder at things, doesn’t equal unhappiness.  This may be the life your child is used to and has grown to love.

This time he was struggling to name three things that are in a refrigerator, three things that are green, and three things you use a key for.  I was giving prompts and cues and he gently said, “Mommy, I am having the best and most fun life ever!”  Did I just hear that right?  You mean that he’s happy just the way he is?  I asked him what he meant.  He proudly said, “I love my therapists and the people who come and help me to learn.  I am SO happy!”  My son does not prefer social activities, has only one friend, doesn’t relate to most people he meets, etc. yet he’s having the best life ever!  Reality check for me!! While I may look at and sometimes focus on his weaknesses, he has embraced them and loves the wonderful person he is becoming.  I felt embarrassed for myself.

While I understand that children with special needs often do not prefer to work on areas in which they are weak, we must sometimes force them to in order to interact with their peers and be functional members of society.  As I state in my book, The Pocket Occupational Therapist, for caregivers of children with special needs, there are many times we are asked to list our children’s weaknesses.  The plethora of forms we must fill out all ask us what goals we would like to focus on.  This means analyzing weaknesses and listing those things we’d like for our children to be able to do.

Here’s a helpful list I put together to help focus on the positive traits of your child with special needs.

1) Make a list of your child’s strengths. The list could include anything you love about your child or what makes him/her unique.  List things that your child brings to your family and to the world.  Ask someone else who loves your child to list their favorite things too.  There’s nothing more special to a child than telling them what you love about them.  It’s a wonderful confidence booster.

2) Make a book with your child about what makes him/her special.  This should include pictures, words, drawings each of you make.  Make it in your child’s favorite color.  If possible, make it into an actual book.  This can be done via many websites or at your local office supply store.

3) Compliment your child daily and in front of someone else.  It’s amazing how much praise from our parents means to us!

4) Encourage your child to tell you when he’s done something he’s proud of.  Jump up and down or give a high-five.  Let your child know how proud you are of what he’s done.  Make eye contact with your child to show him you’re actively listening.

5) Create a special handshake or gesture that is unique between the two of you.  This could be a wink, special nod, a sign language gesture, etc.  Be creative and do this often.

I am working on doing the activities above with both of my boys….won’t you join me?

About the author: Cara Koscinski has her Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. She is the author of The Pocket Occupational Therapist-a book for caregivers of children with special needs. She is also the owner of Route2Greatness, LLC-a company providing OT consultations and products for children with special needs. Cara is the proud mother to two sons with autism spectrum and sensory processing disorders. She is an advocate for children with special needs and enjoys speaking publicly about OT techniques and strategies. You can visit her site for more information at www.pocketot.com

GO Out of Your Comfort Zone

Self-LoveAs many of my readers know, I’m the mother to two children with autism spectrum disorders and to complicate things even more, my younger son has a terrible rare disease which renders him un-able to eat food by mouth. He must be strictly fed by a tube in his stomach to live. I can presume that no little girl dreams of this life I’m living when thinking about her future-I surely did NOT. Yet, I am extremely thankful for my children and the life I’ve been blessed with.

At one of my son’s countless numbers of psychology appointments yesterday, I was struck by something the doctor said. “We cannot grow or experience the beauty of things unless we travel out of our comfort zone.” I was immediately speechless (which does not happen often ;)). He was encouraging my son to work on eating fruits and veggies for a more healthy diet but I got MUCH MORE from his statement.

How many times in your life have you dreaded going to this or that event out of the fear of the unknown? Usually what happens is you attend the event and have a wonderful time and are thankful you went to experience something new. In fact, to learn and grow we must all move a bit out of our comfort zone. Think of a baby as he learns to sit up. He has not tried it before and he most likely will fall, yet he knows no fear and tries anyway. Our bodies are hard-wired to try new experiences from the time we are born. This is how we grow and develop new skills that we will build upon for a lifetime. Reflexes gradually disappear and we innately learn to rely on those skills we have acquired. With each success comes confidence to try again, and then we become skilled.

In my book, The Pocket Occupational Therapist, I provide many ways to help children to learn skills needed for daily living. Children with special needs may need a little more encouragement to learn new skills. We need to adapt the activity for them to achieve small successes so that they may build up the confidence to try again and again. It is through this process that skills are learned. When we fail (or our child fails) it is natural for us not to want to repeat the experience. Therefore, it is our job as parents and therapists to help to facilitate successes. However, we cannot truly understand what this means until we take a good look at our own willingness to try new things. Self-evaluation is important to grow and learn. It has been said by Socrates that “the un-examined life is not worth living.” This is quite drastic, yet rings true for us. We should constantly be examining ourselves and our ability to learn from our own experiences and from our children to grow as parents, therapists, teachers.

When we understand that we do not like to fail and sometimes need a little more encouragement to achieve our goals-big or small-we are more likely to succeed. Let’s take a look at ourselves as teachers and step out of our comfort zone. Go for it!
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

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

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 

Bullying

We Love Puzzles!!

Why is it that children get bullied?  It’s my personal belief that some children make fun of what they do not understand.  If a child does something that’s perceived as different that another child, he/she may laugh or make a joke.  Sometimes our children are called “weird” or “stupid” or “different” by their peers.  Yes, it is true, our little puzzles may do some things that others may think is odd.  We all do things that make us feel comfortable, bite our nails, chew gum, twirl our hair….Sometimes, kids just have bigger motions like hand flapping, twirling, interesting infatuations etc. that make them feel comfortable, but they just cannot hide them-they shouldn’t have to.

In a recent session with my son, his therapist asked him which words she should not use during therapy or words that he just didn’t like.  I was fully expecting him to say, one of the four letter words or the use of the Lord’s name in vein (which we do not permit in our home).  Instead he totally shocked me and said, “Please don’t say weird, odd, crazy, or different because the children in my school use those words about me sometimes in my face and sometimes I hear them whispering them when I walk by.”  My heart TOTALLY sank and I was shocked.  He’d never shared this with me before.  It’s such a shame that he must experience this from other children.  He’s in elementary school.  What will it be like for him when hormones and peer pressure kick in?

When we came home and since then, I have used the word “different” and “unique” and “special” in a positive way and want him to know that being his own special person is so very important.  We should teach our own children, especially those who are typically developing and aren’t used to our kids’ cool flapping, waving, and hand motions that just because something is different makes it even more special.   We should teach our children to learn from “different” and that everyone has something unique and special about them to share with others.

PLEASE share with us your stories of bullying and how you cope.  Let’s try to help each other!

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 freqenty 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