Monday with Maureen: “Everything You Have to Know About Autism”

Autism

When Zoey Miller, author of parenting blog “The Babble Out,” reached out to me offering a link to her online crash course on autism, I gave it a read and greatly appreciated its concision and clarity. Most of all, I appreciate that she prefaces the article by saying every autistic person is different, reminding readers that having a basic understanding of autism does not equal a complex understanding of all autistic people. If you have questions about what Autism Spectrum Disorder is, what it looks like, how to approach it, or any other straightforward inquiries, this article can probably help point you in the right direction.

 

Author: Zoey Miller

I first began to research autism when my daughter Daisy was diagnosed. We’d had her examined by a neurologist at age five, but that first doctor said she didn’t have enough autistic behaviors to label him as autistic. Naturally, I worried about her. Would she struggle in school? Would she ever be able to make friends among her peer group?

If you are worried that your child is developing abnormally or that something does not feel right with him or her, the first thing you need to know is what autism is. First of all, a diagnosis of autism does not mean your child is mentally retarded. Autistic people are not necessarily of low intelligence either. In fact, when my daughter Daisy was diagnosed, her doctor said Daisy does not have a learning disability and that her IQ score is quite normal for an elementary school kid.

Source: littlefloweryoga.com

However, every autistic person is different. Signs and symptoms vary greatly from person to person. Some autistic people fall on the obviously autistic side of the spectrum. In these severe cases, an autistic person might be unable to develop language and be susceptible to temper tantrums. They might also have a hard time socializing with others. On the other end of the spectrum are kids like my daughter Daisy, ones who blend in with their peer group and function relatively well in everyday life.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is as a neurodevelopment disorder. Those who are deemed autistic tend to exhibit repetitive behaviors and trouble with social interaction. ASD affects millions of people world-wide, and the disorder is found in all racial and ethnic groups. Boys tend to be more likely to develop autism than girls. Signs of the disorder are present, in most autistic people, by the age of two. According to the research, autism is a fairly common disorder, and it is estimated that 1 in 68 American kids fall within the autism spectrum.

Signs of Autism and Classification

One early sign of autism is a delay in language development. This was the first thing I noticed as abnormal in my daughter’s case. Daisy did not babble at all as a one-year-old. By the time she was two, she was still silent. However, I noticed that she could understand language. If I said, “Daisy, time to go to the park,” she would grab her shoes and bring them to me so that I could put them on her feet. Daisy’s problem was not with understanding language; she just had a hard time forming it for herself.

However, every child is different. Some autistic people develop normally at first, and then lose their acquired language by age two or three, which is a condition referred to as regression. In terms of speech, the following are all signs of autism, though they may not be present in every case, and many children without autism might also exhibit these signs:

  • No babbling or “baby talk” at all by age 1
  • No gestures, such as pointing or waving by age 1
  • No smiles of happy expressions directed at others by the age of 6 months
  • Limited eye contact with others by 6 months of age
  • Does not respond to his or her name by age 1
  • No meaningful short phrases by age 2
  • Loss of previously acquired language as a toddler
  • Does not share smiles or nonverbal communications with others by age 9 months

Some autistic people develop a condition called echolalia, which means they repeat certain phrases over and over again. Other autistic people remain unable to speak for their entire lives.

In terms of behavior, autistic people tend to prefer to be alone. They experience intense or abnormal reactions to certain sensory stimulations. They may be made uncomfortable by particular sights, smells, tastes, sounds, or even textures. For instance, my daughter Daisy has an aversion to loud noises and covers her ears whenever she hears them.

Autistic people often have difficulty understanding other people’s feelings. Those with autism are also likely to enjoy routines and dislike changes in those routines. Some autistic kids display repetitive behaviors. They may flap their arms, rock their bodies or spin around.

Autistic people often have a limited and specific set of interests. For instance, an autistic child might become fascinated by stacking objects together. In my daughter’s case, she loves neatly arranging objects in her room. She has one wall where she has written her multiplication tables from 0 to 50 on tiny scraps of paper.

Source: autismtopics.org

How Is Autism Diagnosed?

One thing you should know about diagnosis is that there is no specific medical test used for making a diagnosis. Instead, specialists look for a group of symptoms. Often, the child is brought to a specialist for evaluation based on the concerns of a parent, guardian or teacher. The specialist doing the examination will often partly rely on assessment questionnaires completed by teachers and parents.

Daisy was diagnosed after a teacher reported that she sometimes rocked back and forth in class and tended to flap her arms when excited. She also noticed that, while she was pleasant toward the other children, she had no close friends. I was called into the school to complete a questionnaire regarding Daisy’s behavior at home. I also reported that she tended to rock and flap and that she’d had some developmental delays in speaking when she was 2-3 years old. Everything that her teacher and I reported, along with an IQ test and 30 minute observation by a doctor, contributed to Daisy’s autism diagnosis. The observation and evaluation by the doctor included developmental and cognitive tests to see how Daisy compared to other children her age.

Source: maximind.ca

What Causes Autism?

Though the causes of autism are not yet known or completely understood, some researchers believe genetics plays a role in the development of autism. Other non-genetic factors, such as environment, may increase the risk of a child developing autism. However, there is not one specific cause of the disorder per se.

A few things that contribute to the likelihood of developing autism are low birth weight, premature birth and advanced parental age at the time of birth. Other researchers believe that having a child less than a year after a previous one might also increase a mother’s risk of having an autistic child.

At one point, people believed that vaccinations led to the development of autism. However, this has been disproved by science. Doctors and scientist recommend that all children continue to be vaccinated in order to prevent them from developing serious illnesses.

How Is Autism Treated?

Early intervention is one key factor in the treatment of autism. I made sure Daisy got extra help in pre-school by requesting that the school provide her with a speech therapist and special education teacher. As she progressed in elementary school, she had a special education service plan, called an IEP. In order for her to receive services, I had to sit for annual meetings with her teachers and therapist. Since she started receiving speech therapy at 30 months old, I have noticed significant progress. She no longer has any difficulty with speaking, and on her last report card her grades were up to A’s and B’s.

Because every autism case is different, treatment for autism spectrum disorder is personalized for each individual. Autistic kids are often strong in one area but deficit in another. Treatment often involves meeting with a speech therapist and/or behavioral specialist weekly. The behavioral specialist will help the child acquire social skills and reward positive progression. In my daughter’s case, her therapist has noticed that Daisy struggles with certain social cues. For instance, Daisy finds it difficult to detect sarcasm or to know when someone is joking. The therapist is now searching for ways to help her acquire this skill by using different role-playing scenarios.

Management and Medication

While there is no cure for autism, it is often treated with medications. My daughter does not currently require any medications, but some autistic kids do. These medicines treat the obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression that some autistic kids have. Medicines prescribed are often the same as those used to treat mental illnesses, such as attention deficit disorder. Some parents of autistic children may not want their children to be heavily medicated. If you are one of those parents, you must discuss this with your child’s doctor.

Some families elect to take counseling. Family counseling is a good way for families to come together and address specific problems. During sessions, a counselor listens to the family members’ struggles with coping with an autistic family member.

Source: saiconnections.com

Autism can create challenges for autistic people as well as those around them. However, it is important to know that the disorder can be managed with therapy and medication. In my daughter’s case, her public school arranged the screening and evaluation with a doctor. They made the appointment for me, and I did not have to pay the doctor. Schools also provide special education teachers and therapists at no extra costs to parents. This makes treatment both affordable and convenient. If your child or a child you know exhibits autistic behaviors, it is important to have that person screened for autism as soon as possible.

Monday with Maureen: “When a Friend’s Brave Act for My Son Knocked the Wind Out of Me”

First of all, this post I found on The Mighty was so well-written I just had to share it, because a strong narrative voice and good writing are too delightful to pass up. Second, I may or may not have gotten notably misty-eyed while sitting here in the store, surrounded by toys and bright colors but inexplicably emotional nonetheless, and apparently I’m wishing the same fate on all of you (happy Monday). And third, this account of a mother’s dire situation and how it was met with awe-inspiring kindness makes me want to listen closer to the lives of those around me. I hope it inspires you to do the same.

Author: Jessica, a mom whose story has been told by Carla and Michelle of Hey Little Fighter.

My son, Caleb, is a looker. He’s only 5 years old, but at 36 pounds and nine surgeries, he’s a real head turner. That wasn’t always the case (says his mom who doesn’t believe a word of that). Even at 2 pounds soaking wet and not at all ready to brave the world, he was gorgeous to me. It took my son a few months to look like a real baby, but he came around. That scary NICU place let him out after seven months, and our days of surgeons, scrubbing in and gown-wearing were over. That feeling was actually short-lived but that’s another story.

One day, I found myself the victim of the proverbial rock and hard place. Our medical supplier called to say our coming shipment was denied due to insurance changes (non-fixable by me and with a full one day’s notice!). I’ll spare you the details and just say it was a nightmare. What does any mom in this situation do? My son’s shipment literally contained his nutrition, the one and only thing he “ate,” his tube-feeding formula. After the phone calls, tears and offers to trade kidneys, I turned to Facebook.

In my desperation and spilling of all emotions to a group of moms who would “get me,” I didn’t realize the settings of the group were open. That means all my friends saw my sad, desperate plea for help from other moms who might have extras of this particular formula.

Let me gently remind you — my horrifying problem involved my infant son not getting his only source of nutrition, his specialized formula, to my house. No, I couldn’t feed him something else, and no, I couldn’t buy it myself. A box of six cans was over $200 or more. At the time, it was the only thing he could get through his g-tube, and it was cost-prohibitive for us.

Then there was this friend… Delaware is lucky to have her. 

Remember how everyone saw my hideous post screaming to the winds for help? My friend, Jessica, saw the post and helped in a way that knocked the wind out of us.

Her son was in the NICU facing IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction), liver failure and coagulopathy (a condition that affects blood coagulation), and even so, she showed an incredibly generous and brave heart.

She saw my post and sent the information of the formula my son needed along with our address to several of her friends and family she thought could help. Explaining our situation, she told them if they could buy and send us the formula, to please do it. No yes or no answers needed to her email.  Jessica told them if financially they could help, to just do it. And did they ever.

Let me spare you the ugly-cry details, but that one Facebook interaction fed my son for months. Within two days, boxes of formula arrived at my doorstep.

The brave, generous and incredibly bold act she took upon herself to reach out to others, and even dig out of their own hearts and wallets to help my family — well, that just changed my life. I saw what the power of desire could do for the better. By the time our insurance situation was fixed, over a month had passed. Sometimes I still wonder… what would I have done otherwise?

Years later, I’m still moved that most of the kind souls who helped us in times of need didn’t know us from Adam or had never heard of my son’s medical conditions. (Caleb has short bowel syndrome, pulmonary vein stenosis and hypertension and gastroparesis.) They just sympathized with another hurting human being.

I try to make a difference wherever I go, because I remember that generosity of spirit. It was more than opening their wallet to my family; they opened their hearts to my son’s heart and literally his stomach.

Give a smile, a dollar, a handshake or hug. If it’s in your hand or heart to help, do it. Even in the most unconventional way, you could change a life. Because I’ll never forget that time my friend used Facebook to feed my son.

Monday with Maureen: Senseez on “Why Vibrations Help!”

We shared a video from Senseez a couple months back, you might remember. It featured the creators of Senseez seat cushions and included a blurb about where the company came from, why they do what they do, and other fun tidbits about the company. Here’s another video from them, this time explaining the significance of vibration as both a soothing addition to a child’s space, as well as a focus-inducing sensation sometimes helpful for kiddos who might be too anxious or distracted to absorb new information. Check it out if you’re a fan of the product, or if you want to learn more about how calming sensory input can benefit kids at home and in educational environment.

Check out our selection of vibrating Senseez seat cushions here: https://therapyinabin.com/?post_type=product&s=senseez

Monday with Maureen: “15 Tips for Helping Children With Sensory Sensitivity Brush Their Teeth”

If your kiddo fights toothbrushing time, these tips from Christina Kozlowski could be a great start for transitioning to a smoother routine. In particular, these thoughts can offer some guidance for parents and guardians of children with Sensory Processing Disorder or sensitivities specific to oral hygiene. While this post is certainly not the only reference you should consider before formulating a plan for toothbrushing time, some of these tips might help you generate ideas to use as stepping stones during further research and consultation.

 

Author: , OTR/L and owner of Sensory TheraPLAY Box, LLC, the monthly sensory toy box for children with autism and/or sensory needs.

Most kids run away from the sight of the “terrible toothbrush.” However, for children on the autism spectrum with sensory issues, this can be even more of a challenge. There can be many different factors and reasons for a child’s aversion to toothbrushing. There may be some hypo- or hyper-sensitivity and oral defensiveness going on. With hypo-sensitivity, kids might have less awareness of what’s going on in their mouths, which can contribute to anxiety related to the mouth area (think of it as a type of oral “numbness”). On the flip side, kids who are hyper-sensitive might be overly conscious and sensitive to oral stimulation. The slightest touch can be overwhelming and be perceived as painful.

Although I am a licensed occupational therapist, the tips below are general suggestions and not an individualized therapy plan. If you have concerns, a speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist trained in oral motor therapy can offer a complete an evaluation and put together an individualized therapy plan with recommendations that take all factors into consideration.

However, for some general ideas and helpful insights that can be used in a trial-and-error type of approach, read on! Below you will find my tips that might help your child be more independent with toothbrushing and keep those pearly whites squeaky clean.

1. Some children may find the sensation of the bristles uncomfortable. Try using a brush with extremely soft bristles or silicone bristles. A baby toothbrush could be a useful transition tool to help your kiddo eventually transition to a regular brush. For example, the Banana brush is a baby training toothbrush that has short bristles made of silicone that can help to desensitize.

2. A toothbrush that can get the job done faster. For example, a three-sided toothbrush such as DenTrust cleans faster and gets all three sides with just one brush motion. The bristles are super soft to gently clean the gum tissue.

3. Experiment with different toothpastes. Some kids don’t like the taste of the mint and can perceive it to be a painful, burning sensation. Try different flavors of toothpaste, such as bubblegum, strawberry, orange, etc.

GUM Crayola Squeeze-a-Color comes in toothpastes that are all different colors and flavors (melon blast, blueberry burst, and jazzy apple). You can let your child squeeze a little from each tube to mix and match the colors and flavors and have some fun with it. Also, Banilla Bling is a vanilla ice cream flavored toothpaste.

4. If your child is sensitive, maybe flavored toothpaste isn’t the best option. Also, the foaming of the toothpaste may be the culprit, causing unpleasant sensory sensations and discomfort. Oranurse is a flavorless and non-foaming toothpaste that was initially created for children on the autism spectrum who were were sensitive to strong flavors and taste. Overall, this toothpaste doesn’t foam and has zero flavor, which may help ease your child’s comfort.

5. Focus on finding the right toothbrush. Make sure the toothbrush is the right size for little hands and has soft bristles that don’t hurt gums. An electric Spinbrush can make toothbrushing more fun because some children love the feel of the vibrations. Another fun option is a flashing timer brush (Crayola makes one that lights up for two minutes, letting children know when brushing time is up.)

6. If your child is a music lover, consider a singing toothbrush. There are lots of varieties of musical toothbrushes on the market, from ones that sing songs to ones that make animal noises.

7. If a singing toothbrush with all the fancy bells and whistles doesn’t sound too appealing to you, simply sing a song your child loves while they brush. If the brushing stops, you stop singing. You can even play a favorite song on your phone and pause it if they stop brushing.

8. Brush when your child brushes. Brush your teeth at the same time as your little one. Be enthusiastic about it, making it look appealing.

9. Take turns brushing. Let your little one brush their own teeth first before you do it for them. You can also try and give your child your brush and let them brush your teeth while you brush theirs (it can be a good distraction!).

10. Try brushing teeth while in the bathtub. You can also give your child a cup and some bath toys while you brush his/her teeth at the sink. Water play at the sink is a simple distraction.

11. Brush in front of the mirror. This might help your child feel more control of the situation. Visually being able to see the toothbrushing process can help as opposed to a situation where you’re facing your child and they cannot see what’s going on.

12. Visual supports and schedules. A visual schedule can be created by taking photographs of the steps of toothbrushing. Option 1: You can cut and laminate the photos, putting velcro on the back of each one. Arrange in chronological order on a board and as each step is completed, the corresponding picture is removed. Option 2: Print photos of the toothbrushing process, laminate the pages, and a dry-erase marker can be use to check off each step (so that the page can be reused day after day). Option 3: Snap a picture of each step of the toothbrushing process, load the pictures on to a digital picture frame and program it so that each photo is displayed for 10-second intervals. This can be used in the bathroom as they are brushing their teeth so they have a visual prompt when it is time to move on to the next step.

13. Try a timer. Sand timers or using the stopwatch on your phone are great for making how long to brush more understandable. You can start with just a few seconds and work up to a full two minutes.

14. If brushing really is a battle, it’s completely OK to start small. If your child isn’t comfortable with a regular toothbrush, or the electric toothbrush, start with brushing only one or two teeth for a couple seconds, (maybe with the baby silicone bristle toothbrush?), then stopping. A couple days later, you can “up” the amount of teeth you attempt to brush and add on a few more seconds. It’s OK to try this method and go slow. Sometimes a desensitization process is needed.

15. Consider water temperature. Have you always brushed your teeth with cold water? Is cold water what you use when brushing your child’s teeth? If so, try switching it up and using warm water. You child may be sensitive to the cold water and tolerate a warmer temperature a lot better.

Monday with Maureen: “Playground ‘Fads’ Can Be the Social Glue for Kids With Disabilities”

Author: Janie Townsend, Assistant Manager at Mindful Toys/therapy-puppy-in-training wrangler/dark chocolate enthusiast.

Scanning The Mighty last week, I found a piece written by Emma Pierce, who works in special education and resource development for kiddos with disabilities. She challenges the assertion that any playground fad should be banned or snuffed out without exception for the sake of maintaining order in a classroom environment, which caught and held my attention in light of the raging popularity of fidget spinners this spring and summer.

Personally, I’ve been frustrated with the spinner sensation. Don’t get me wrong, I have a fidget spinner myself and I love it. I have pals who benefit greatly from having a motion-based fidget, a cycle of weighted movement neutralizing anxiety and fulfilling sensory-seeking needs. For folks who need some help self-regulating, the spinners are brilliant. But their popularity as a cool toy has them exiled from many schools, and openly judged by parents who haven’t been given the opportunity to see their usefulness. Plus, the knowledge that some manufacturers can pump out cheaply, poorly made spinners and still make a buck due to their popularity annoys me to no end, now that I’m used to working with vendors who prioritize product quality since so much of their stock is geared toward the development and comfort of kids with sensory processing needs.

All this is to emphasize that Pierce’s post humbled me and educated me about how popular toys, whether dubbed “fads” or not, can be the saving grace for social stragglers. Children who find interaction and social situations daunting might receive quicker acceptance into a group if they have a spinner of their own, or the latest deck of Pokemon cards, or a retro lunchbox, or whatever the “cool” thing is at that moment in time. Kids who may come off as “weird” to other children for any reason suddenly have a common denominator, and can more easily practice making and keeping friends.

As someone who vividly remembers the day my mom drove my brother and I to a toy store half an hour away for Kaiba decks during the Yu-Gi-Oh card craze (before my smallish Texas town had toll roads or a nearby Target), I can safely say I never realized these phases allowed kids to slide more easily into relationships with one another. Even so, it makes total sense. I could chat with any classmate about the latest episode of the show or my favorite playing card, regardless of whether I knew or even particularly liked them. So I’m reconsidering my judgments about the unruliness of the current hand spinner fever, trying to be more aware of how such a small thing, whether or not it’s used properly or manufactured lovingly, can improve a child’s quality of life.

Give Pierce’s post a read, and if you have kiddos with spinners of Pokemon cards or metal lunchboxes (you get cool parent points for that one, by the way), maybe have them read it, too. Just so they know how powerful their playground playing can be.

Monday with Maureen: “How to Improve Concentration and Focus in Your Life”

How to Improve Concentration and Focus in Your Life

Summer is consumed by fun activities and vacations, but it’s also a good time to recharge when you have the chance. Helen Sanders, chief editor of Health Ambition, reached out to us sharing this article about small steps you can take to improve concentration and focus your mind. Give it a read and give it a try this week, and receive the benefits that come with centering yourself during daily tasks. Happy Monday, friends!

 

Author: Helen Sanders

I’ve sometimes wondered – and others have asked – if I have a form of ADD or ADHD. I have a very hard time sitting still, and not a moment goes by in the day when I’m not doing something, playing with something, reading something, or fiddling with something. I’m not a smoker, but I can see why the oral fixation and the need to have something in your hands can be so hard to deal with.

I have a hard time staying focused on anything, so I had to actually find ways how to improve concentration in order for me to be an effective writer, teacher, runner, and martial artist (all of these things require a good deal of concentration).

If you want to know how to improve concentration or how to improve focus, here are some tips that have helped me…

Get your Senses Involved

how to improve concentration

If you want to concentrate more, try and engage all of your senses in what you’re doing. If you’re sitting in a meeting, try and take notes as you listen and see. Engaging your brain and your sense of touch can help make it easier for you to stay awake and alert – no matter how boring the droning may be.

Did You Know: Exercising your mind to improve your concentration and focus can help to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease? Whether you learn something new, memorize information, play games, do puzzles, solve riddles, or do new things with your mind, you’ll keep it active and prevent your mind from decaying as you age.

Use Mnemonics

how to improve concentration

Mnemonics uses visual images as a means of recalling information easily. There are mnemonic devices for just about everything, and you can create your own if you want.

“My very excellent mother just served us nine pickles” is a great way to remember the order of the planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto).

They’ll help you to picture something in your head, and that picture will be related to information you want to remember. If you have a hard time concentrating on important facts, use mnemonics to help you.

Understand the Information

how to improve concentration

If you don’t understand what you’re reading, writing, or listening to, how are you going to focus? In order to be able to concentrate and focus properly, you’ll have to understand the information being presented.

Try and relate the new information to information you already have or understand, or structure it in a way that follows a logical progression. Just like you learn a new recipe by structuring it like an old recipe, structure your information this way to make it easier to remember.

Try Music

how to improve concentration

You should try to use music for your work as well, as it will prevent your mind from wandering. When I write, I love to listen to music. It engages my sense of hearing, and it helps to tie my attention to the computer that I am using to write.

The music has to be coming through headphones directly into my ears, and surround sound or speakers just don’t work for me. Your brain can only multi-task so much, and occupying it with music and work leaves no room for any errant thoughts.

Just make sure the music you listen to matches the work you’re doing.

Understand Yourself

how to improve concentration

Know yourself and how you pay attention. My attention span lasts for about an hour and a half, and then I need a break. Some people can work for hours straight, but they have to down gallons of coffee to make it happen. Find out how you work, and make it easier on your body and your mind by tailoring your schedule accordingly.

Lifehack: Break your work up into chunks, and take a break once you’ve completed a task. I take a break after 90 minutes, and it helps me to focus more on what I’m doing once I get back to it. Plus, it gives my brain time to recover from the wealth of information I’ve typed and read as I work.

Cut Communications

how to improve concentration

Whatever you do, stay offline and incommunicado as much as possible.You don’t want to be distracted by emails, Skype messages, texts, and phone calls, so take your phone off the hook, close your internet window, turn off your cell phone, and close Skype.

Lifehack: Cut yourself off from the internet. If you have a hard time focusing on your work, you need to cut off all distractions. There are some apps what will do it for you. It will block your email, social media sites, and any other non-essential internet pages, helping you to focus on what you’re doing.

Exercises from the Early 20th Century

There’s this nifty book called The Power of Concentration, published in 1918 and written by Theron Q. Dumant. It’s got some great exercises that can help to improve concentration, like:

Focus on a Glass – Hold a glass of water in your hand, and extend your arm to its full length. Now stare at the glass, and hold it still for as long as you can. It can help you gain control over your voluntary muscles, and will sharpen your focus.

Smell the World – Sit in a comfortable spot, and inhale deeply through your nose. Try and isolate each of the smells that you are inhaling, and identify as many as you can. Try this at home, in the park, at the office, or anywhere else. It will help you concentrate your attention on individual things that make up a whole.

Feel Your Body – Listen to your heart beat, your stomach growl, your lungs fill and empty, and your blood pump. Picture your organs working, your blood flowing, and your body doing its thing. You’d be amazed at how relaxing it can be.

Monday with Maureen: “Summer and Sensory Processing Issues: How to Help Kids Stay Comfortable in What Can Be Overstimulating Outdoor Activities”

We stumbled upon Rae Jacobson’s writing through Child Mind Institute, and I can safely say all of her posts are well worth your attention. This post in particular caught my eye as I sorted through Google search results about how to ensure that kiddos with sensory processing issues still get the chance to enjoy summery activities. With fireworks, outdoor games, summer camps and summer treats just around the corner, kids can be overstimulated as well as overwhelmed by the newfound flimsiness of their daily schedules. Rae Jacobson, who frequently writes about the needs and experiences of children and teens with distinct mental health issues and learning disabilities, provides applicable ideas here that can ease the discomfort of unstructured summertime and soothe extra sensitive children. But don’t stop after you read this post – check out Child Mind Institute and how you can connect with their mission to help children wrestling with learning disabilities and mental health battles.

 

Author: Rae Jacobson, writer and content engagement specialist at the Child Mind Institute.

For many kids, summer vacation holds the promise of months of school-free fun. But for children with sensory processing issues, summer can be a challenging time.

From the sand on the beach to the fireworks on the Fourth of July, the season is full of exciting but potentially difficult experiences. An unfamiliar playground, a visit to an amusement park, a messy ice cream cone: all involve sensory surprises that can be overwhelming or upsetting if a child is unusually sensitive to light, noise, and tactile sensations. But with some preparation and planning parents can help kids with sensory issues get the most out of summertime.

Study your child’s specific needs

The first step to helping a child with sensory processing issues enjoy summertime is having a strong understanding his specific needs. Sensory processing issues come in many shapes and sizes, and no two kids are exactly the same. An activity like going to the beach might be a huge treat for one child and miserable for another, depending on their individual sensitivities.

“For children with tactile hypersensitivity something like going to the beach can be a nightmare,” says Lindsey Biel, an occupational therapist and author of Sensory Processing Challenges: Effective Clinical Work with Kids & Teens. “They can’t stand the way the sun feels on their skin, or the sand on their feet.”

The best way to avoid a meltdown at the beach is to tune into what your child’s behavior tells you. Did he refuse to go in the water at the waterpark last summer? Does he have trouble with sticky food like cotton candy? Does he run away when you try to put sunscreen on him? Looking back at what kinds of activities your child has enjoyed—and which have lead to meltdowns—is a great way to get a sense of what he’ll enjoy in the future, and what tools you can use to help potentially difficult activities become less stressful.

Make a schedule—and stick to it

When the school year ends, saying goodbye to homework is often cause for celebration, but for kids with sensory issues the loss of an orderly schedule can spell disaster.

“One of the difficult things that happens during summer is the loss of structure,” says Biel. “Kids with sensory issues thrive when there’s a predictable schedule and they can more or less tell what’s going to happen each day. When that’s gone the day becomes more stressful, not less.”

Unexpected events are jarring and disruptive for kids with sensory issues who are more sensitive to changes in environment or activity. Routine helps them feel comfortable and better prepared to handle what’s coming their way.

  • Consider enrolling kids in activities that help them maintain a schedule. Swimming, art, or other sensory-friendly classes or day camps can mimic the structure of school in a fun way.
  • Work with your child to make a calendar of upcoming events. Use stickers or fun doodles to represent activities. A dolphin sticker might represent a day at the beach or a picture of roller skates could mean a visit to the park.
  • Once you’ve made a schedule, try hard to stick with it. Disorder is very confusing for kids with sensory issues, so consistency is key.

Avoid surprises by thinking ahead

Summer is a great time to try new things but some experiences can be overwhelming for kids with sensory issues. When it comes to going out, careful planning can mean the difference between a happy summer day and a total meltdown. The more prepared they are the less likely they are to be overwhelmed, which means everyone will have a better time.

  • Focus on transitions. “Kids with sensory processing issues often struggle with transitions,” says Dr. Matthew Rouse, a clinician at the Child Mind Institute. “So it’s very important to give them plenty of warning when transitioning from one activity to another.”
  • Talk it out. “Prepare kids for potentially overwhelming activities by talking about what the experience will be like in advance,” says Dr. Rouse. “Knowing what’s going to happen takes a lot of the anxiety out of trying new things.”
  • Break it down. “Take any situation that’s potentially problematic and do a sensory analysis of it,” says Biel. If taking your kid to the park overwhelms him, think about what sensory triggers might be behind his reaction. Breaking the experience down to its sensory components—the light touch of long grass, the bugs, the noise—can help you and your child figure out how to manage the more difficult parts of the experience before you arrive.
  • Try a test run. “Once you know your child’s sensory triggers you can begin working to help them manage their sensory arousal,” explains Dr. Rouse. A lot of popular summer activities, especially those that take place outside, are full of intense multi-sensory stimulation. Kids may need to back up and explore the sensory experiences in a less stimulating environment.A great way to do this is to ‘test’ different components of the sensory experience in a non-stressful setting. “Making a sensory bin for kids to play with at home lets them get used to the different sensory experiences one at a time so they don’t get overloaded,” says Biel. “Turning desensitizing activities into play also helps kids associate difficult textures with fun.”Sensory bins are easy to make. For example, if you’re heading to the beach try filling a tray with sand and
    shells at home. This way he’ll have the chance to get used to the tactile experience long before you hit the shore. Another way to prepare for activities ahead of time is to ‘practice’ them at home. For example if you’re thinking of taking a hike, try doing a short test run in the park or the yard. This way, kids can get a preview of the sensations—how the grass brushes their legs, or how their backpack feels when they carry it for a long time, in a safe, comfortable space.
  • Make a sensory go-kit. “Kids should have their own toolbox of things that help them to feel good,” says Biel. Put together a backpack of objects that provide sensory relief so kids can carry them even when parents aren’t present. “Try including earmuffs, fidget toys, chewing gum or a weighted lap pad,” suggests Biel. “Anything that kids can use to keep themselves regulated during new or difficult activities.”

Summer tools to know

The right tools and clothes can reduce sensory overload and help kids have a good time.

  • Sunglasses: “Make sure the child has really high quality sunglasses,” says Biel, “A lot of kids with sensory issues are very sensitive to bright light.” A neoprene strap to help them stay on can be helpful.
  • Sun-protective hats: For kids who are very sensitive to sun try a soft, comfortable wide-brimmed hat.
  • Good bug spray: When it comes to mosquitos and ticks, comfort and safety are important. Many bug sprays are very effective but kids might resist them because they feel sticky or are strong-smelling. Lightweight long pants and long sleeves can be equally effective. You can also try spraying his clothing and hair rather than applying it directly to bare skin.
  • Sunscreen: If you’re spending time outside, sunscreen can be an essential. There are many different kinds, so
    investigate which works best for your child. Some are less greasy or come unscented or in spray versions. When applying sunscreen use massaging, even strokes. “Deep pressure is calming and organizing for kids.” says Biel. “Instead of using light touch to apply sunblock, use that as an opportunity for a massage. It can be a good way
    to help desensitize a child before going out.
  • The right bathing suit: “There are different bathing suits that have different sensory qualities to them,” says Biel. “A lot of kids can’t stand an elastic waistband, or the light touch of ruffles.” Finding a sensory-friendly suit will make going to the pool and other swimming activities much more fun for kids.
  • Ear protection: Bring noise-cancelling earmuffs. Reducing noise takes intensity out of multisensory experiences. This is especially helpful for kids who are very sensitive to sound, but can be a great way for any child to take a step back and regroup.
  • Portable shelter: Beaches and parks can be fun but it’s important for kids to have a retreat. An umbrella or beach cabana provides protection from the sun and gives kids a safe space to take a break during outdoor activities.
  • Protective shoes: If walking on grass or sand is intensely uncomfortable, don’t push kids to go barefoot. Bring along a pair of aqua socks or other comfortable shoes that work well in outdoor conditions.
  • Seek out sensory-friendly events: Many museums, movie theaters, and shows including circuses and major musicals offer summer events geared towards kids with sensory processing issues. To get a sense of what’s available, try doing an Internet search for sensory-friendly activities in your area.

Finally, remember that the goal is to help kids have a great summer. Focus on having fun, learning new skills, and doing what’s best for your kids and yourself.

 

Monday with Maureen: “Support, Confidence, and Coping Strategies: How to Help Your Child Handle Adolescent Anxiety”

Anxiety is crushing enough as it is, but for children who haven’t yet gained the communication skills or coping mechanisms adults have often acquired by the time they reach functional adulthood, anxiety may be an even deeper and darker nightmare. This article sketches out some ideas and explanation for parents walking through adolescent and childhood anxiety with their kids. Special thanks to Noah Smith, who reached out to us expressing concern for kids with anxiety that goes untreated and unaided. Noah loves sharing his travel advice on WellnessVoyager. He tries to take one big trip each year, is currently saving up to backpack through Europe, and graced our blog with his presence this morning through these insights into the mental health struggles so many endure throughout their childhood.

Author: Noah Smith

 

Growing up, children will go through many phases. Phases are normal, temporary, and typically harmless. However, if you notice signs of nervousness, fear, and shyness in your child that doesn’t go away, they may be dealing with an anxiety disorder. Here are a few tips on how you can help your child successfully cope with their anxiety.

 

Give them your support.

Having anxiety can make a child feel isolated and alone due to the stress it causes. As a parent, you need to show them that they are not alone and you are there to help them face this trying time.

There will be times you will want to shield your child from what triggers their anxiety, but the best way for them to learn how to successfully cope with and perhaps get over it is to face everything. They have to learn how to tolerate their anxiety and function to the best of their ability, especially when they are stressed. It can be tempting to take over, and although it will make your child feel better in the moment, it relays the message that they can’t handle it on their own.

One of the best ways you can support your child is by expressing positive, but realistic expectations. You can’t promise your child that they will never experience anxiety, but you can express confidence that they will be able to manage their anxiety and everything will be okay.

Let your child know that as they face their fears, their anxiety level will begin to drop. Build up their personal strength by praising them for facing challenges. Whether it is a pat on the back or a trip to get frozen yogurt, simple praise will go a long way in building your child’s self confidence.

 

Let them feel.

Expressing confidence in your child’s ability to overcome anxiety is very necessary, but you will also need to respect their feelings so that you don’t belittle their fears. Although it may be hard for you to bear, it is okay to let your child experience some anxiety.

It is important that you explain to your child that anxiety isn’t dangerous or a punishment, but rather their body’s natural coping mechanism. For example, it explains why they feel scared if they can’t find you in the store or why they feel anxious when they are walking home from a friend’s house and it is getting dark.

Anxiety is natural, but sometimes it bubbles over and becomes a barrier. Offer them encouragement to help them realize that they can face their fears. The message you want to come across is, “I recognize that you are afraid and that’s okay. I’m here and I’m going to help you get through this.” Fear is natural and overcoming it is too.

 

Teach them a positive coping strategy.

Breathing exercises can help your child to calm themselves in stressful situations and stave off a panic attack. A technique called calm breathing teaches your child how to slow down their breathing when they are feeling anxious. When children are anxious, they tend to take quick shallow breaths, which may cause hyperventilation. Calm breathing will help your child reestablish their sense of control.

Teach your child to take a slow breath in through their nose, hold their breath for 2 seconds, then exhale slowly through their mouth. Wait a few seconds, then repeat up to 10 times. Once your child becomes comfortable with this technique, encourage them to do it any time they feel it is necessary. This is an exercise that your child can do anywhere and it is so subtle that other people won’t even notice what they are doing.

The sooner you begin to enforce ways to successfully manage your child’s anxiety, the better off they will be. If left untreated, anxiety can lead to alcohol abuse or addiction when your child gets older. As a parent, you always want what’s best for your child, so start implementing these tools today so your child can live their best life.

Monday with Maureen: “If You Start to Apologize When I Tell You My Child Is on the Autism Spectrum”

Bird

Danielle Duggins writes with delight and wisdom about raising children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. Her blog, Someone’s Mum, brims with perceptive humor and narratives of growth, and her words paint a loving and brave picture of what it means to receive the gift that is her son. With thoughtfulness backed up by eloquence, she objects to the suggestion that her son is in any way defective. I was encouraged by Danielle’s joyful, seasoned appreciation for her son’s life (not to mention impressed how well-spoken she is as a writer!) and I can’t wait for you to read this post from her. And make sure to rummage through her blog for more wonderful writing!

Author: Danielle Duggins

 

You ask me, “Does your eldest child have autism?”

“Yes,” I reply.

“I’m so sorry.”

My stomach lurches. No. Don’t say you are sorry. I know you mean well. But don’t apologize for the gift that is my boy — for any part of him.

I used to think a child having a disability was a tragedy. I thought that the parents of such children must long for them to be “whole.” But your idea of “wholeness” is skewed by what you are, by what you know. Birds cannot breathe underwater. Fish cannot fly in the sky. We do not spend our time lamenting the lack of ability in either. Nor do we assume that the fishes long to fly, or that birds feel incomplete, soaring through the air.3

Fish writhe on the shore not because they are fish — but for the absence of water.

I know you want to express something. You are compelled to respond, to show you care. I know it is a subject that can make those without experience awkward and uncomfortable. You fear to offend and an apology is simple, closed. I am not offended but please — let me explain.

My boy cannot run, jump and climb like some other boys. He cannot dress himself or drink from a cup. Simple tasks we take for granted require a great effort.

But he can list the wonders of the solar system, in perfect order. Planets and moons and stars roll off his tongue. They must all be perfect. Io and Ganymede and Calisto and Europa. His perception of them is governed by rules that are as absolute as the rules of the universe that make them spin. His rules must be flawless, predictable — like gravity. And they are just as beautiful, in their perfection.

Communication can be a challenge for my boy. He has vocabulary — but the mysteries of interaction and communication must be learned. They will never come naturally. Sometimes he cannot tell me what he needs, and his frustration and despair tumble out of control.

But he loves music. He relates to the sounds of instruments more than lyrics and voices. He mimics the drums and the bass guitar and will tell me which instrument is which, his whole body tense with joy as he imitates them. Listening, singing, dancing — they are not enough. I believe he longs to be the music.

My boy cannot cope with disorder. The pressures of unpredictability take an awful toll. When there are changes, he shows anger, terror, or blankness. I do not know which is hardest to watch. I do know that it is my privilege to hold him, to protect him, to wait — until he feels better.

He is acutely honest. He is sensitive. He is loving. When I ask him how much I love him, the answer is always, “Do you love me as much as the whole world, Mummy?” and I must always reply, “Even more than that, gorgeous boy.”

He adores word games and strange vocabulary and the absurd. Deliberately muddling words can make him laugh until he shakes. He loves to make his baby sister giggle.

I have known no purer joy than watching the delight, mirrored in their faces.

He is perfect.

So, if you must feel sorry, feel sorry for those who do not see what I see. Feel sorry that the world is set up for fish, when he is bird. Feel sorry for those who might shun him, or fail to understand him, or even mock him — for strengths and weaknesses that seem so different to their own. It is their loss, their tragedy. For their perception that he is less, that he needs an apology, is based on standards that are not real. They are an illusion that seems real because the rest of us make it so by our actions, our attitudes.

You do not know what to say. And so you say sorry. You say, I don’t know how you do it. You say, you must be so strong. But my child is not a burden. He is the light of my life. And he would be yours too, if he were your child. Strength flows like water, for those we love. Yours. Mine. My spirit and resilience are no greater than yours.

So if you feel an apology about to escape your lips, stay silent. Or ask, instead, what is he like? What does he love? What makes him smile? What makes him laugh until he shakes?

Because I cannot, and will not, be sorry for any inch of him.

Monday with Maureen: Even Ellen is a Fan of Senseez!

You’ll never guess who’s featuring Senseez vibrating seat cushions and where they came from – EllenTube! Not only is this TV personality hilarious, she apparently has great taste in products contributing to childhood development. Check out this video by visiting the page, and read the accompanying story as well! There’s a sweet, informative blurb about how the company grew, and you can see the family behind the Senseez cushions. Happy Monday, friends!

Boy Invents Senseez Pillow