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

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

Summer FUN (shhh…..don’t tell them it’s actually therapy)

SUMMER!
It’s here! Most families look forward to summer’s relaxation and lazy days. However, the lack of routine and structure can be the cause of great stress for families of children with special needs.
School routines are predictable and provide consistency and the transition to summer may be a difficult one. In addition, the skills your child has gained in school should be carried over into the summer to stop any regression. No ideas? Feeling overwhelmed?

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NEVER FEAR……THE POCKET OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST is here!!

Try to keep a routine. Look at the calendar together and make a routine for your family. Include your child in choosing activities and even colors that you’ll write on the calendar with. Post a list of daily schedules and chores with check off boxes. Schedule new activities well ahead of time and be sure to prepare for them. Visit summer camp sites prior to camp, meet counselors before camp begins, and take pictures of camp locations. Make a memory booklet and encourage your child to write in a journal about his summer activities. If he’s not writing yet, ask him to draw pictures. This will be a great keepsake!

Schedule as many play dates as possible. Extended family and cousins may also be off of school and need to keep busy too. Play games together such as making up your own circus. Walk a taped line imitating a tightrope, learn to juggle, and pretend to walk like different animals in the circus. You can also pretend to make a zoo, jungle, or go on safari. Walking on all forus to imitate a bear, lion, tiger, dog, or any other animal is great for proprioceptive (heavy work) input.

Make a parade with homemade instruments. Visit our Pinterest board for ideas on how to make your own instruments out of paper plates, oat containers, and paper towel rolls. Marching to different rhythms is a fun way to work on proprioceptive input and body coordination.

Play charades and act out different sports or occupations. This is a great activity to do as a family or during a play date. For an added challenge, act out different feelings.

Draw letters and numbers using only your fingers on your child’s back. Ask him to guess what you are drawing. Let him practice on your back too.

Tape a line on the floor and ask him to jump in different ways over it. For example, hop with your right foot on the left side of the line. Jump three times on the right sice of the line. Use the line as a pretend balance beam.

Cross crawling is a great activity to help in right/left coordination and visual motor skills. Crawl by moving one arm and the opposite leg (right arm/left leg) and then switch (left arm/right leg). Try giving your child directional commands such as: “Touch your left ear with your right hand.” Be creative and encourage your child to give you directions as well. Sometimes, playing the teacher is empowering!

Evening activities at dusk are fun too. Go on a flashlight scavenger hunt with your child. Use a flashlight to draw different letters and numbers on the ground. Use glow sticks to write letters in the air. Add glow stick liquid to bubbles and have a bubble blowing competition.

Use sidewalk chalk on the concrete or on your trampoline. Ask your child to jump to the letter you call out.

Walk like a wheelbarrow in the grass. Hold your child’s ankles, knees, or thighs and ask him to “walk” on his hands. You can place different things such as bean bags or play tools onto his back to “transport” items like a real wheelbarrow does. This is an EXCELLENT activitiy to add into any sensory diet. It is filled with proprioceptive input/heavy work.

Hop scotch, jumping rope, and learning to ride a bicycle are always super summer activities.

Use a spray bottle to spray plants. Squirting each other on a hot day is a fun way to cool down while building hand strength!

Fine motor tasks such as bead stringing, macrame, puzzles, hunting for treasure in different sensory bins, card games, marbles, making letters in sand and shaving creme, jacks are all great ways to build fine motor skills.

Painting with different items such as leaves, sticks, or cotton balls is fun. Adding tweezers to any task builds fine motor coordination. Instead of picking up cotton balls with his fingers, use tweezers!

If your child has difficulty catching a hard ball such as a baseball, use a wiffleball which will move slower and is easier to catch. Playing mini-golf with plastic golf balls is a fun way to build skills without the danger of a real golf ball flying through the yard.

Make a book. Cut old magazines and paste pictures on to a book made of construction paper and bound with yarn. Write stories about the pictures or make your own. Even punching the holes (through which to bind the book) with the hole puncher is a great fine motor activity.

Make a game of feel and guess. Use an old shoebox and cut a hole for your child’s hand to fit into. Place an item such as a leaf into the box and ask your child to tell you what the item is just by the way it feels. This can be done every season and with many objects such as stones, ice cubes, and seeds.

Make puppets out of old socks and felt. Put on a puppet show for friends or family.

Give your child a treasure hunt list with items such as a butterfly, cloud shaped like a certain animal, or sound of a certain bird’s chirp. This should be a multi-sensory treasure hunt involving eyes, ears, touch, and smell.

Plan snacks that relate to different books. Examples include: Blue Berries for Sal, Stone Soup, and Bread and Jam for Frances.

Set up a store selling different summer items such as beach toys, summer fruits, and vegetables. Encourage your child to make signs for each item and practice making change when something is purchased.

Use old sheets and blankets to make tents. Go camping in your living room!

Finally, plant seeds and watch them grow. Move them from small pots or paper cups into a garden area. Chart their growth in a notebook. Encourage your child to help you with the responsibilities of watering her garden and re-potting when necessary. Caring for something such as a plant can empower a child.

Make sure to read a great book together (Don’t forget about reading and recommending The Pocket Occupational Therapist for families of children with special needs).

Most of all, HAVE FUN together! You never know when you are making a memory that your child will have for the rest of his life!

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

Eosinophilic Night Before Christmas

Eos Night Before Christmas

          ©Cara Koscinski

  ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house     

The pump was a whirring, and waking the mouse;

His feeding bag was hung by his bed with care,

In hopes that some nutrition soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of eating real food danced in their heads;

G and NG Tubes, each with their caps,

If they’re open, they’ll leak and disturb my kid’s long winter’s  nap;

When the pump started beeping, there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to his side, I flew like a flash, Tore open the covers – saw a kinked line and a rash….

I think of the time that he could eat food.

When people didn’t judge us, some are just rude.

The cakes, cookies, and foods that he cannot eat.

The dream of giving my boy just one food treat,

Has vanished and won’t come back very quick,

No one can cure it, not even St. Nick.

More rapid than lightning the vomiting came,

Eosinophils cause this disease, EGID is the name.

In Greenville, Colorado, Pittsburgh, and Philly!

In Boston, in Texas, in Florida, in Cincinnati!

They work on research, so our kids can grow tall!

Now find a cure today! Please we pray!  Work together all!

Dreams of having a typical childhood away fly,

Because of this disease, our children must cry.

Vomiting, pain, diarrhea, and choking,

ulcers, fatigue, another doctor-are you joking?

Enemas, laxatives, surgeries, scopes,

Steroids, tests, biopsies, IVs-yet our kids have hope!

Just when you think this disease has calmed down,

Our kids are faced with another re-bound.

Insurance won’t pay for his special food,

We must fight for everything, we hate to be rude;

A pump and some formula flung on his back,

And another day goes by with him wearing his pack.

His eyes — how they twinkle! His laughter– how merry!

He cannot take even one taste of dairy!

Just a little bit of food he can’t chew with his teeth,

We must steal food away from him like a thief.

One or two safe foods, we learn to cook.

Expensive food stores, all of our money, they took.

Someday he’ll be chubby and plump, like a jolly little elf,

And I’ll laugh when I see him, in spite of myself;

Until then, we all will continue to fight…..

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.”

© 2011  Shared with permission

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 

The Power of a VISUAL..Happy New Year!

Few things excite us and cause a feeling of starting new and fresh like New Years holiday.  It signifies a new beginning.  The visual image of the ball dropping on midnight is so powerful that people make resolutions to make actual changes to their lives.  Imagine that!  What’s the actual difference between today and tomorrow, nothing.  We aren’t different, our lives aren’t different.  We don’t see the time changing in reality…..BUT……the visual symbol of the ball and the change in the calendar carries real POWER.

I encourage you to examine your own reactions to the New Year-wheather they are positive or negative.  Then, look at your child who is a visual learner.  WoW!  The visual stories that you can create to help your child have the potential to create REAL change to their daily lives.  Giving a visual along with your verbal praises, directions, and emotions can be a great help!  The visual image you assign can help your child immensely.  I have made a great many social stories for clients (and my own children) and have seen big changes in their ability to transition and complete activities of daily living with greater ease.  We all need visuals from time to time and don’t think much about them in our own lives.  We all experience the changes that come with New Year’s Day and I’m hoping that you take a minute out of that day to reflect on your child and the potential you have to make a positive difference in his/her life!

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 

Happy VISUAL New Year to All!

Wishing you many blessings in 2013……..from your friends at The Pocket Occupational Therapist.