Occupational therapy…”hmm, yeah, I have heard of it”..”but, umm...what is it that you do again?”
“You help people get jobs right?”...
“Wait...you’re a pediatric occupational therapist?
"Well….why would children need jobs?”
If I had a nickel for every time I have heard a similar conversation I would be RICH! SO...what is occupational therapy and what do we do when it comes to a population of children? First off, we don’t help your child get a job, however, we can help provide skills that one needs for a job in the future. Instead, we enjoy being called the specialists that are going to teach your child how to use their brain and hands together while sitting upright in a chair. Let’s begin with what our brain and hands are doing. Think about how much you do with your hands throughout a day. We button up our shirt, we feed ourselves with a spoon, we grab our seat belt to lock in place, we hold a cup to drink our large coffee out, we write to-do lists with a pen, we pick up the small M & Ms as a midday snack, we tie our tennis shoes to walk our dog...okay, you see where I am going with this. Everything we do with our hands begins with a plan in our head and is then executed with movements of our body, this is called motor planning. This motor planning allows us to accomplish everything we do in a day...which explains the brain part. But now our hands, too?? I promise I will make it simple. Our arms and hands make all of these activities possible through how we move, grasp, and manipulate items in our everyday life. Period. So as occupational therapists, we help to coordinate what our brain and hands are doing and provide the tools needed for your child to be able to control their upper body movements and manipulate objects to complete necessary activities across their environments. “Okay...but upright in a chair?” “What?!” Well, that takes us to the “foreign language” part of occupational therapy... What do I mean by saying upright in a chair? We do focus a lot on what our arms and hands are doing, but we can’t even begin to observe that if we aren’t sitting upright in a chair, or sitting pleasantly on the ground, or having enough balance to stand up tall, right? This is where the sensory approach comes in. I know when we think about sensory we think about our five main senses we learned in elementary school: touch, taste, smell, sight, hear...but did you know there are actually 8 sensory systems in our bodies? The last three that we don’t learn about are vestibular (knowing where our body is in space), proprioceptive (movement of our muscles and joints in relation with the rest of our body), and interoception (what our internal organs are feeling) systems. All of these systems work together in order for us to sit in a chair, stay in a chair, and attend in a chair. “Okay...so what? We have 8 sensory systems...what does that have to do with occupational therapy?” Well, I will tell you. Occupational therapists are magical masters in finding how your child processes sensory input coming in from all directions, then we provide fun activities that helps the child process that input better (without them even knowing it, WHAT?!), and then the child learns how to attend to their teacher or you, control their emotions, sleep better, or EVEN SIT UPRIGHT IN A CHAIR without falling or causing disruptions. We all have sensory needs and we all process these systems differently. A lot of the time, for adults, we learn how to regulate without help...such as tapping a pencil or a foot in a meeting, chewing gum, doing a midday stretch, etc. We have just naturally learned what is going to help us stay awake or attend to someone or something. “So...how do I know if my child may need occupational therapy?” Great Question! Some things to look for: ● Trouble holding items (such as spoon/fork, writing utensil, etc) ● Maintaining a grasp on such items ● Uninterested or avoid activities with small manipulatives (beads, cutting, writing) ● Does not use both hands/sides of body ● Trouble finding objects in a background ● Handwriting difficulties ● Picky eating ● Avoids messy play ● Avoids movement (climbing, swinging, etc) ● Seeks movement constantly ● Seeks tight hugs, consistently pushing/falling into you ● Requires specific clothing and clothing materials ● Seems to require their name to be called a few times before noticing ● Enjoys chewing/biting objects ● Avoids loud/ busy places ● Loses balance easily I know...you’re thinking “maybe some of these things happen but I am just not sure if it is normal or if it means anything more than just being a kid.” Well, GREAT NEWS. Here, at Reaching New Heights, we offer FREE, yes…..I said FREE, screenings to assess if your child might need more help from the brain and hand specialists, the magical sensory masters. Feel free to contact me with any questions/concerns or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
My kid won’t talk, what do I do now?! The answer may be PECS!
Here is why I am SO EXCITED about PECS at Reaching New Heights, and why you may be just as excited as I am!
The introduction of PECS has been a game changer for several of the children I work with. The main reason that PECS WORKS is because it decreases the neurological demand on the child (they are able to just focus on removing/exchanging an icon to communicate). It also works because it teaches the child that COMMUNICATION IS POWER! They typically learn very quickly that by requesting items, they are able to get what they want much faster. The third amazing thing is that it does not inhibit verbal communication, it promotes it, mainly because they learn that communication is power and by talking, they can achieve even more!
One child that comes to mind came to Reaching New Heights with no verbal communication. I wanted to introduce a tool that would encourage him to communicate, but would also act as a resource for him to request his wants/needs in different contexts! PECS seemed like the perfect tool! I started using this with him and within 2 weeks he was independently removing the icon(s) and exchanging them for desired items (e.g., he would exchange a “car” icon for a toy car). I brought his caregiver in to observe a session and trained her on PECS so that they could start to use this amazing resource at home!
(Did I mention that I made him his own PECS to utilize at home, that is personalized and catered to his specific needs?! We can do this for any child that comes to Reaching New Heights and excels with PECS!!)
Now he is able to seek out his PECS in the therapy room and bring icon(s) to the SLP to request desired objects. It was so exciting to see his progression with PECS and to see him gain functional communication!
One of the greatest things about Reaching New Heights is our ability to collaborate with other fields/professions. As a team, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and ABA discussed PECS and the benefits it could have for this child if we all use it. Now he is able to use his own PECS in all of his therapy sessions to tell others the things he needs!
PECS can be such an amazing tool for so many different children. Communication is so important, and PECS is an amazing resource that can help children begin to use their voice and learn all the wonderful things they can accomplish with communication! Come see us at Reaching New Heights to see all the amazing things your child can accomplish with PECS!!
ABA is sort of the new kid on the block when it comes to services for children with autism, and the other kids on the block sometimes aren’t welcoming us with open arms. Personally, I find that very confusing.
It’s a crazy, fun, hectic, and overall special time of year as the holidays are quickly approaching. For you this might mean tons of family time, parties, big dinners, decorations, shopping, holiday music, lights, shows, etc. These all seem like exciting activities, but if you have a child with ASD it may be overwhelming for them and stress inducing for you. Children with ASD can be overstimulated by a variety of things during the holidays such as the loud music, crowds of people, bright lights, strong scents, social situations and gatherings, just to name a few. My best advice is to be prepared for these challenges! Here are a few proactive strategies you can use for yourself, family, strangers, and a child with ASD.
These are just a few ideas you can use to make your holidays run smoother. I look forward to sharing more ABA techniques with your families once the ABA Department opens up in February 2019. Until then, Happy Holidays!
Betsy Soshnik is a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst at Reaching New Heights. Betsy is passionate about helping children and families overcome obstacles and improve the qualtity of their lives. She has 7 years experience providing ABA services to clients ages 2-19 years old. Betsy enjoys spending time with her husband, son George and daughter Audrey.
Halloween is one of our most beloved holiday traditions, but it can be challenging for some children. Children diagnosed with Autism or Sensory issues or even language delays or speech disorders can find various aspects of Halloween to be more of a “trick” than a “treat”.
Planning ahead can help alleviate many of these challenges. Here are some simple tips for reducing stress!
1. PREPARE YOUR CHILD. Show your child pictures or videos of Halloween. Talk about what happens or read a social story or even role play the act of trick-or-treating. Anxiety is often caused by not knowing what to expect.
2. CHOOSE THE RIGHT COSTUME. Some children with sensory issues have difficulty adjusting to different textures or weight of fabric. Masks should be avoided and it’s best of every day clothing can be adapted to be a costume. Use sweats and a hoodie to make an animal costume or super hero. (I was a pink sweat suit bunny in preschool!) Let your child wear the costume before Halloween and be prepared that they may refuse on the big day. And that’s alright!
3. MAKE A PLAN. Choose to go early before it gets dark or too crowded. Choose to only go to houses near your own in case your child needs to exit quickly. Avoid houses with scary decorations or people dressed up to scare the kids.
4. THE BUDDY SYSTEM. Stay with your child, but it helps if you can pair them with a neuro-typical peer if possible. This peer can serve as a role model and may help reduce anxiety.
5. DIET RESTRICTIONS. If your child has a restricted diet, you can bring your own treats to hand to the homeowner at the moment or ahead of time. Also, discuss with your child ahead of time what and how much candy they will be allowed to eat that night.
In some cases, it can help if the child carries or wears a card explaining why they don’t say “trick or treat” or “thank you”. Feel free to use mine or make your own.