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

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

What is a "stim" or stimulatory behavior in autism?

We have heard of “stims” or stimulatory behaviors in children with autism.  It is one of the signs doctors look for in making a diagnosis of autism.  Stereotypic or stimulatory behaviors include rocking, flapping, making noises, picking, rocking, or spinning.  In fact, we all have behaviors that are considered stimulatory.  What do you do when you are in a stressful situation to calm yourself down?  Some people twirl their hair, chew their fingernails, or tap their fingers on the table.  So, everyone has some behavior that is calming.  So, what is the difference between you and a person with autism?  The ability to determine the “social acceptability,” duration, and timing of the behavior is the key.  In a meeting when you are stressed it is not appropriate to flap your hands wildly, twirl around, or make clicking or humming noises.  You have learned that biting your fingernails or bouncing your leg is an acceptable way to deal with stress.  Chewing gum or ice is another acceptable way to self-soothe in public.

Most people with autism also have some form of sensory processing disorder.  This means that everyday noises, sights, smells, movements, and actions may cause a stress, fear, or un-expected reaction.  The noise of a dog bark may sound like nails on a chalkboard. So, that person may need to engage in a stimulatory behavior in order to calm himself down.  The “stim” is a way of soothing in a stressful situation, controlling negative emotions, or dealing with anxiety, anger or fear.  So, when someone is hyper(over) sensitive to everyday situations, sounds, sights, etc.  he needs to engage in more stimulatory behaviors to help calm himself down.  It’s like a cycle.

When do we “break” the cycle?  Personally, I think that our society makes rules that are difficult to follow.  Why is it more acceptable to chew on your fingernail than to flap your hands?  At what point is it no longer cute for a child to spin around in public?  Someone, somewhere is constantly judging your actions and it’s that mold that we have to fit into that causes more stress.  My older son makes noises with his mouth and flaps and tightens his hands in private only.  We have taught him that it is inappropriate to do so in public.  When he is stressed in a situation, he knows to go into a bathroom or away from eyesight of other people and stim until he’s calmed down.

This is much more difficult to teach children who have more severe forms of autism.  When they may rock and flap, they get the staredown from people.  I think this is sad.  With autism on the rise, maybe the ones who rock and flap will outnumber those who don’t!  Can you imagine????  Everyone else flapping around staring at YOU because you are the one standing still chewing your gum and biting your fingernails………….thoughts?

Thank you for traveling down the Route2Greatness with us!  www.route2greatness.com

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