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

Organization Tips For A Successful School Year

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I am often asked by parents, “What can I do to help my child to be organized?” Many parents tell me, “I feel helpless and overwhelmed every year because my child is so messy.” The best suggestion I can give is to begin organizing the homework area and start a daily routine at the onset of the school year. Be consistent! It may be difficult at first, but after three weeks you will notice a wonderful difference in the level of stress during homework and preparation time.

It is best to start by organizing the area near the door. Hang hooks for his backpack and jacket and as soon as he gets home from school encourage him to take them off and place them in this special area. Use masking tape if necessary to draw a box for younger children or if you do not have an area to place hooks. Any visual that helps to outline a place that’s uniquely your child’s area will be helpful. This is why pre-schools use cubbys and taped off squares for younger children. Make a list of items required on a daily basis. This includes things such as lunch box or lunch money; a planner/calendar; clothing; and homework. Use a white board or checklist so that your child can actually check or cross off the item’s name as he gets it ready.

Prepare an area for homework that your child uses every day at a designated time. When it’s time for desk work, ensure that the area is quiet and away from distractions such as the TV and radio. Clear the desk area from any items other than those which are school/homework related. Make sure the area is well-lit.

It’s always best to get in some exercise (at least 30 minutes) daily prior to beginning homework. Make sure to include gross motor activities such as jumping on a trampoline, dribbling a basketball, hula hooping, hop-scotch, or riding a bicycle to provide input to the sensory system. Provide crunchy/healthy snacks for your child. Often times, input to the masseter (a powerful muscle used when chewing) helps to organize us. You can try it out too! When you feel stressed or overwhelmed, try chewing on gum or crushed ice. You may already do this to calm yourself and not even realize it!

Color code each subject at the beginning of the year. Blue for math, red for Language Arts, etc. Each subject has a notebook and folder of the same color both at home and in the school desk so that the organization system carries over to the school classroom too. Every teacher could double-check and initial the homework assignment as your child writes it in the planner at school and the parent then signs as the child completes the assignment at home. I encourage parents to request (add to the IEP) that students are permitted to have a set of books for use at home. This entirely alleviates the stress of remembering which books to bring home daily.

Finally, the act of setting out clothing before bed each night will significantly help with the morning stress. Ensure that all pieces of the outfit are clean and organized the night before. This includes underwear, hair clips/ties, and socks. It is amazing how knowing exactly what will be worn the next day can help to calm anxiety.

Share your tips for organization with us….we may share them with our readers!

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 has systemic lupus and strives to find the positive side of life. You can visit her site for more information at www.pocketot.com

(c)The Pocket Occupational Therapist

The Casserole Society

HOW CAN I SUPPORT A CAREGIVER OF SOMEONE WITH SPECIAL NEEDS/CHRONIC MEDICAL ISSUES?

Support

By: Cara Koscinski ,The Pocket Occupational Therapist

*Re-Printed with permission

The old adage says, “You never know what happens behind closed doors.” Everyone has struggles and triumphs. Some deal with their situations more quietly than others. Raising a child with special needs or dealing with chronic illness can bring tremendous joy for families as their child reaches his goals and takes baby steps toward a more functional life. On the contrary, there are many “bad days.” The amount of stress parents must deal with on a daily basis can be great. The same may be true when you find out that someone in your life (or even yourself) has a chronic medical condition. The fact is, chronic medical conditions and disabilities can change every day. Just when you feel you’ve got a handle on things, circumstances change. There may be feelings of isolation and helplessness. Often times, we think “No one knows what I’m going through.” These feelings are normal and are expected. Having a support system in place is critical in dealing with trials we face.

Our society has been trained to be supportive in the short term. For example, when someone has surgery, we bring them a meal and a card or flowers. As a therapist, I call this the “casserole effect.” Yes, it’s my own term and I’ve used it for years. The patient is expected to make a full recovery and everyone moves on with life and their own business. Here’s another example: A greeting such as, “How are you doing today?” can be a formality in our society. The greeter may not want to know how you are doing and if you’d begin to tell him, he’d probably look at you like a deer in headlights. Everyone wants to move forward and deal with their own problems. No one wants to hear about yours-repeatedly. So, what to do when you’re dealing with a chronic illness and things just don’t “get better.” Most families lose friends and even some family but there are a few faithful people who stay for the long haul.

As an occupational therapist, it’s my job to look at the person as a whole and to assess how disease and disability affects each person’s daily life. Since every person is different, every person experiences things in a different way. Hopefully you or someone you love may benefit from reading the following lists.

The DON’Ts of providing support:

1) Don’t make promises you cannot keep. Do not offer to help if you do not mean it. Remember that someone may be counting on you.

2) Do not compare your situation to theirs. EVERYONE is different and there is no need to talk about yourself while the other person is trying to vent or lean on you for support. It is extremely irritating to me when I am speaking about my child’s medical procedure and the listener begins to complain about her own paper cut.

3) Do not make a food that contains any allergen/food someone cannot tolerate. I can think of nothing less considerate than making a meal with nuts if a child in the household is allergic to them.

4) Do not say that the illness is in the person’s head or that they are faking it. *Even if you think it….keep it to yourself.*

5) Do not give medical advice or treatments you’ve seen on television that are “cure-alls.” Leave the medical treatment/information to the person’s care team and medical staff.

6) Do not belittle someone when he/she is having a bad day. Just be a quiet listener and offer hugs, a listening ear, or kind smile.

7) Do not ask how things are going or how someone’s day is if you do not have the time to listen. It’s extremely rude to ask as a formality when someone else is hurting and could use a listening ear.

8) If you cannot say anything nice-do not say anything at all. Rude, hurtful, or thoughtless comments can cut deeply.

9) Do not compare the person’s illness to someone else who you know has something similar. Most likely, there will be lots of similarities from person to person in disease symptoms BUT the difference is how the symptoms affect the person’s daily life.

10) Do not appear frustrated when the person is having a bad day. Some days are good and some are bad. They are sporadic and not at all predictable. The person with the chronic condition wishes for good days too, believe me!

Here are the DOs in providing support:

1) Try to listen-whenever necessary. Be a quiet listener without offering advice. A shoulder to cry on or laugh with is of utmost importance.

2) Send random messages of support, texts, or e-mails. It is great to know someone’s thinking about you.

3) Learn about the illness or disease and ask how it specifically affects the family. Showing you’ve researched can show thoughtfulness. (Be careful not to offer medical advice, though. Researching statistics on the disease or it’s symptoms is helpful).

4) Volunteer to do errands. It’s easier to volunteer for specific tasks, “I’m going to the grocery store, do you need me to pick up anything for you?” “I’m driving past the restaurant; may I pick you up a meal?”

5) Offer to go to an appointment or therapy session. Moral support is priceless.

6) Get a gift certificate for the caregiver to help relieve stress. This includes a magazine subscription, massage, manicure, etc.

7) Do ask about the person’s health or personal situation before you ask them for a favor. It’s not all about what YOU want; it’s about being considerate and caring.

8) Offer to babysit or take the children out to a movie or the park. The break from caregiving can do wonders!

9) Do ask if there’s anything you can do for them today. Things can change quickly and an offer made last week may not apply to this week’s issues.

10) Do avoid gossip about the person involved, family circumstances, and any other personal information. Gossip adds to the stress of the situation and it has negative results.

Please remember that you have the ability to create or negate chaos in someone’s life. I’d like to encourage you to be the positive energy in someone else’s life. You never know, that somebody could someday be YOU going through an illness or disability.

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 has systemic lupus and strives to find the positive side of life. You can visit her site for more information at www.pocketot.com

(c)The Pocket Occupational Therapist

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

He has a disability so he will never….

I’m re-posting one of our most popular blog posts.  Enjoy!

Recently, one of my children was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.  I couldn’t help but get the flash in my head that some of you may have right now….a kid screaming nasty words and slurs in public.  The media has indeed sensationalized this small portion of Tourettes.  In fact, according to the Tourette Syndrome Association, only 15% of people with TS exhibit this symptom.  With that being said, the judgement of my son immediately began.  Someone in my family said, “Great, well this means he will never get married!”  Another remarked that “it’s good that you have a nice home because it’s very likely that he will be living with you for his entire life.”  REALLY?!?!?!?!

I have never been a judgemental person.  I teach my children to accept everyone as they are.  God created everyone to be wonderful and He doesn’t make mistakes.  My husband and I try not to make derogatory statements in front of our kids.  Sure, we are not perfect but sincerely strive to teach our kids that bullying others or making judgements about others is not OK.  Some kids have obvious differences, such as my son.  He has a feeding tube and has frequent involuntary eye and body movements.  My good friend’s son has one arm.  Another friend’s son has Down’s Syndrome.  These children have SO much to offer those who get to know them- those who dare to see beyond the physical.  My son is the sweetest child that I have met.  When he sees someone crying, he immediately tries to console them.  He is smart and loving.  He is good at things that interest him.  He WILL change the world someday, and has already changed the lives of those who see beyond the things which make him “different” than themselves.

What about you?  What makes you different than others?  What do you do when you see someone different that you are?  Do you judge?  Do you make comments that may cause pain to others?  Are you aware that variety is the spice of life?  I encourage you to look at your reactions to others, to look at your children’s reactions to others.  What gives any of us the right to say negative things about others out loud or to their face?  You don’t have the right to tell someone that their child will NEVER do ANYTHING.  The fact is, you should not say anything to any mother bear like me who will stop at nothing to ensure that my children have every chance to do what they dare to dream!

Please leave a comment to give me your thoughts….positive or negative….

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 

5 Tips for Transitioning to Summer Clothing

Summer2012 726While most families look forward to the warm spring weather, there are some of us who look at the transition in weather with anxiety.  Why?  Sensory Processing Disorder may make transitions in clothing from season to season difficult.  Many children have a great deal of fear and worry about moving from long-sleeved shirts to short sleeves or from pants to shorts.  You are not alone if your child is NOT dressing appropriately for the weather conditions outside.  According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation (www.spdfoundation.net) ” 1 in every 20 children may be affected by Sensory Processing Disorder” (SPD).  Sensory dysfunctions can occur in any area (or any sense). The largest organ of the human body is the skin, so chances are great that skin receptors may be affected by sensory issues.

Consider the different textures of clothing and their weight.  Winter sweaters and coats are heavier and provide much more “input” or information to our body’s receptors than a lightweight cotton t-shirt does.  In fact, along with the feeling of touch comes the feeling of pressure and weight that our clothing gives us.  Some children and adults with SPD actually report the feeling of light touch as “painful and like nails on a chalkboard.”  Additionally, when we wear shorts or t-shirts we are able to feel the breeze on our skin- which can also feel “light” and “tickly.”

What can I do to help my child to dress appropriately for the weather?  This is something that I am asked frequently and with every change of season.  In fact, I’ve devoted a portion of my book, The Pocket Occupational Therapist to helping children to tolerate clothing, baths, hair and nail trimming.  PLEASE know that you are not alone!  Many families are having this same issue and feel just as frustrated as you do!

  1. Give your child warning that the seasons are going to change soon.  Explain to him that some days are going to get warmer and some are going to stay cool.  Show him the calendar and mark off the seasons or times in your location when weather typically changes.
  2. Let him go through his drawers with you to determine which clothing he may have outgrown since last summer.  Let him feel the texture, see the color, and choose which clothing he will most likely wear when it’s warm.  Allow him to go shopping with you and have a voice in choosing which clothing is purchased for the summer.
  3. Offer him two choices of clothing/outfits daily.  Giving him control over his clothing can really make him feel in charge of things.  Of course, you can pre-select which two choices you offer to ensure that clothing is appropriate for the weather that day.
  4. Ask him which type of clothing he prefers to wear.  Patterns, textures, buttons, seams, and zippers all matter to children with SPD.  Their existence on a shirt can cause a child anxiety and discomfort.  For example, two summers ago my son absolutely refused to wear any shirts with patterns on them.  So, we purchased t-shirts in all solid colors.  He tolerated the plain shirts well!  The next summer when we went through his drawers he began to cry and show signs of great anxiety.  We realized that he now (a year later) had changed and insisted on wearing only shirts with stripes on them……..it’s like playing detective!
  5. Let him practice before he must actually wear the clothing outside.  Give him a day/time in which he will be wearing the clothing.  Let’s use shorts for example.  “On Saturday, we are going to practice wearing our shorts.  You only have to wear them for an hour and will get a sticker (or some reward).”  Build up the time he wears the clothing  be sure to provide lots of praise and encouragement….this is hard work for him!

The absolute worst thing to do is to force him to wear the clothing that he does not want to wear.  How would you like it if someone made you wear a scratchy wool sweater?  Choose your battles.  Sometimes, it’s better to have a child who is actually dressed rather than one who matches perfectly.  Try to relax and stay calm…..your child takes his cues from you!

We KNOW you can do this….remember that you are not alone.  Let us know how it goes!

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

Oral-Motor Fun

There are many fun ways to incorporate oral-motor “heavy work” into your child’s sensory diet.  The activities you choose should be fun for your child!  The most important consideration is to choose an activity in which your child is SUCCESSFUL and then make it more difficult as his muscles get stronger.  You wouldn’t want to begin your first ever gym session by lifting a 100lb weight!

Here are a few fun things to try:

-use a straw to blow a cotton ball or small pom-pom

-blow bubbles into a dish pan of water with liquid soap.  Watch your little one laugh when the bubbles form in the water as a result of their hard work of blowing!  *Of course, make sure they don’t drink the water 😉

-hold a cotton ball in your hand or place it on the edge of the table and have him blow it off.  Make a silly sound as it falls

-whistles of all sizes are fun, each differently shaped whistle changes the muscles used by the mouth, so be sure to provide a variety of sizes for super great exercise

-sucking on candy canes of different flavors is a super activity during the holidays.  Not only does it provide work for the oral muscles, but it provides many taste experiences.

-use pixi sticks and place their contents around the child’s mouth at different places, allow the child to use only his tongue to lick it off in front of a mirror

-straws of different sizes can be placed into your child’s favorite drinks

**REMEMBER** the smaller the straw, the harder the oral muscles will work to get the air out.  Begin with a larger, straighter straw and work down to a smaller, curvier one.

Post some of your favorites to share.

Let me know how these activities work for your child!  For more information on oral motor, sensory processing, and anything OT related, purchase our book, The Pocket Occupational Therapist.

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. 

PREVIEW(3)Visit our website at www.pocketot.com for more information about OT, FREE handouts and resource  page.  Also click on the link to the right for more information on our store with downloadable handouts, cards, and lessons for children of all abilities!