Category Archives: organizational issues

Brain Differences Are Real! How YOU Can Retrain the Brain of Your Child Who Has Sensory Issues

The brains of people with ADHD, autism, and/or sensory processing disorder are different from the brains of neurotypical people. There’s reams of evidence this is true, including a new report on visual processing differences and ADHD. Whenever I hear people say ADHD or sensory issues aren’t real, or that some kids don’t have autism and are just the victims of bad parenting, I wish I had a portable brain scanner to whip out to show people WE ARE NOT MAKING THIS STUFF UP! (Forgive my crankiness–I hear so many of your stories about ignorant people who are convinced it’s all nonsense and I share your frustration!)

For those of you who have already accepted this fundamental reality about different brains, please remember that brains are retrainable, or plastic so there is reason to be optimistic, although it may not feel that way on your worst days. How does brain retraining work? As the saying goes, “When neurons fire, they rewire.” That means that when a neuron is stimulated and sends out an electrical signal to another neuron, a bridge between them forms. When the stimulus is repeated, the bridge is strengthened. In time, that bridge becomes very strong. That’s why we see that after a sensory smart OT does the same activity, hand over hand, with our child again and again, one day, he just “gets it” and doesn’t need cueing or demonstrating anymore. In fact, the stronger the neural network of bridges, the easier it is for him to translate the original skill to a new activity. He can blow a bubble off of a bubble wand  AND blow out a birthday cake candle.

Kids with sensory issues may need lots of practice to acquire skills such as bubble blowing. Have your sensory smart OT assign you homework--activities you can practice with your child, as part of a sensory diet, to retrain her brain.

Retraining the brain is easiest with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, but we can retrain the brain at any age as long as any damage to the brain is not too severe. Even then, our brains are marvelous at rerouting signals so that we can make do with what we have.

What this means for us as parents is that we help our children develop more typical sensory processing, better self-regulation, and new skills through repetition and practice. Talk to your OT regularly about what she is doing with your child to build new neural networks and follow through with “homework.” My son’s marvelous sensory smart OT, Lindsey Biel, showed me how to stand over him, cueing him to keep his legs together using my own legs, and count off to jumping over three stuffed animals lain on the floor, in sequence. “1-2-3 jump–legs together! 1-2-3 jump–legs together, that’s right!” Every week, we had homework to do. It was fun and easy to work into our home routine (especially because Lindsey is a huge advocate of sensory diet activities that combine with everyday life easily). I learned that this follow through was as important as a musician practicing between lessons. Just a few minutes of each activity a few times a day helped tremendously. In fact, my son had so much fun he would often try activities on his own, or point to the equipment (it helped that he is a sensory seeker so jumping and the like always held great appeal–I know you parents of sensory avoiders have it a bit harder!).

If you haven’t done OT homework at all, or in a while, make a plan for yourself to learn what to do with your child and work on it every day, even if only for a few minutes. You can do it, and it’s fun!

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Filed under A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., helping your child with SPD at home, Lindsey Biel, occupational therapy, organizational issues, OT, Practical tips for sensory issues, sensory diet, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder

Writing Without Handwriting: Tips for Kids with Sensory Issues Who Resist Writing

 My most recent edition of the Sensory Smart News garnered more positive feedback than any newsletter I’ve written since the Sensory Smart News began (if you haven’t subscribed yet to this monthly newsletter of practical tips for parents, teachers, caretakers, and professionals who want to help sensory kids, you can do so at www.sensorysmartnews.com) Until I get a chance to put it up on my website, www.sensorysmartparent.com I thought I’d reprint it here.

The Sensory Smart Tip: Recognize that handwriting and writing are two different skills, and focus on composing separately.

Developing handwriting skills, and handwriting at length, is often difficult for kids with sensory processing disorder. There are many issues involved in handwriting, including memory, language processing, posture, muscle tone, body awareness, tactile issues, and so on. If your child is having difficulty handwriting, get it evaluated by a sensory smart OT. Once you are able to identify which issues are at play, you and the OT can work on those with your child. I will do a future newsletter on the sensory piece of handwriting. For now, let’s look at the composing aspect of writing for school.

When you separate out composing from handwriting, it can greatly help a child who has uneven skills. There’s nothing more frustrating than knowing what you want to say and not being able to get it down on paper with a pencil, unless it’s not knowing what to say and having handwriting problems to boot! As a professional writer and editor, I am very much aware that too often, we mush together the many different elements of writing and editing, which can intimidate and confuse a novice writer. There’s really no reason for it. After all, in the olden days when I was a secretary, my bosses regularly composed their letters via dictation, and I used a Dictaphone or Gregg shorthand to record what they were saying. Bestselling romance novelist Barbara Cartland composed all her books by dictating them to a secretary.

Here are some tips to help your child with SPD approach the composing aspect of writing without becoming anxious and frustrated.

1. Use technology for composing. Provide, or have your child’s school provide, assistive technology such a keyboard, iPad, or dictation software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking (R). It takes time to train such software, and some kids may find it too frustrating to make connections, so you may want to try it before committing to using it.

2. Use old-fashioned dictation. Your child can dictate his book report to you or someone else while you type it. You can record it on your smart phone, a low tech tape recorder, or other technology, then play it back and type it out for her.

3. Have her write freely for a few minutes for practice. Have your child sit and write anything she wants, using handwriting or a keyboard. This will encourage self-expression. Praise her for the effort and don’t make corrections. Let her get used to the idea that she actually can compose her thoughts and “write.” If she’s stumped on a topic, provide a simple one, and reward her for writing anything on the subject. If she’s very anxious, start small, free writing for as little as one minute.

4. Encourage composing letters and messages that are short form. A child who composes emails to his cousins and scrawls funny little messages to mom and dad on the family blackboard will have an easier time approaching a larger writing task than a child who rarely practices expressing himself through writing.

5. Focus first on ideas and how they’re related to each other. Visual mapping using bubbles, or Inspiration software which allows you to do this easily on a computer, works well for some kids. Other kids need to talk them through with a parent or teacher before starting the process of writing.

6. Focus next on the organization of ideas and sentences. Kids with sensory issues often have a very hard time with organizing time, possessions, and their thoughts. They also may not realize that a report or letter should have a beginning, middle, and end, or that a sentence has certain elements that make it a complete sentence. Focus on these elements of composition before looking at the mechanics of spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. It will help your child better understand the craft of writing as composing and take away the pressure of having to remember all those visual pieces that are involved in writing on paper or on the screen (such as capital versus small letters).

7. When working with a computer, let her pick the font and its size. Crazy though it may sound, some kids with visual issues may have an easier time composing on a computer screen, using a keyboard, if they can choose a font that is appealing to them visually. You can always change it later before printing it. Your child with visual issues may need the type to be very small or very large, or find that the letters are easier for her to read in a font that you personally find too “out there.” Consider adjusting the computer screen too to reduce glare and provide more or less contrast. In our focus on handwriting and its sensory issues, we can forget there are sensory issues with computer screens and devices, too!

8. Teach your child that editing can come later. Most of us edit as we write to some degree but an anxious child can get too caught up in “getting it perfect” right away. Teach your child that even the greatest writers go through multiple drafts of what they write, and focusing on the ideas and how they’re expressed is the first step of editing. Yes, if she notices she forgot to capitalize the first letter in the beginning of a sentence, or misspelled a word, she can correct that, but that’s not what she should be looking for until she’s made certain the ideas are expressed the way she wants them to be. Reading the composition out loud can be extremely helpful.

Handwriting and writing (composing) are two separate skills. When they're mushed together, kids with sensory processing disorder, autism, ADHD, organizational issues, and language processing difficulties can become overwhelmed.

9. Work on spelling separately. You may notice your child’s spelling is better when handwriting is not involved because by not focusing on the handwriting element, he frees himself up to pay closer attention to his spelling. Experiment with having him dictate how to spell the words, or keyboard them. Have him go over spelling words by keyboarding them or spelling them aloud—perhaps while walking in a circle, spinning on an office chair or Dizzy Disc Jr.(r), or jumping on a mini trampoline. Some kids find that learning word roots is very helpful with spelling.

10. Keep the atmosophere positive as you break down the task. Whenever your child expresses anxiety about a large task, stay positive and break down the large task into smaller tasks. As they say, every great journey starts with one small step!

Two books that can help your child by providing writing prompts are 350 Fabulous Writing Prompts, for 4th through 8th graders, and 500 Writing Prompts for Kids: First Through Fifth Grade

My middle school age son has also been enjoying handwriting his thoughts in Diary of A Wimpy Kid Do It Yourself Book.

Just a reminder: If you place your Amazon.com order through the links on my site, such as by clicking on the jacket for Raising a Sensory Smart Child that appears on every page, I get a small commission that helps me fund hosting fees and my newsletter fees. Thanks!

 

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Filed under back to school for sensory kids, classroom accommodations sensory, handwriting, language processing disorders, organizational issues, rigid thinking, sensory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder symptoms, special education, teenagers and sensory issues

Help Your Sensory Child Get Ready for the School Year

Many kids have already started the new school year. I know many of you are nervous about the changes this year. Be sure to pull that copy of RAISING A SENSORY SMART CHILD off your shelf (and pick up a copy for yourself–even for your child’s teacher!) and do take a look at our chapters on advocating for your child at school, organizational issues, and practical solutions for everyday problems. The book is chock full of practical strategies that I know you’ll find invaluable! It will help you set up a sensory diet for your child, with or without the help of an occupational therapist.

Do you have back to school rituals you share with your child? Do you write a letter to her teacher, or teachers? I’d love to know what you do to help ease this BIG transition each fall for your child with sensory processing disorder.

HELP YOUR SENSORY CHILD GET READY FOR THE SCHOOL YEAR

“Back to school” traditionally means buying fall clothing and school supplies, but there are other equally, if not more, important ways to get your child with sensory issues ready for the new school year.

Prepare your child with information. Sensory kids deal with so much unpredictability in the sensations they experience everyday that they tend to become more anxious about transitions than they would if they didn’t have sensory issues. Your sensory child may have countless questions about the upcoming school year: What will her classroom and teacher be like? Will her best friend be in class with her? What will be the lunch menu the first day? Will she sit by the window? Be patient and understand that the more information she has, the less stressed out and anxious she’ll be. Try to arrange to have her meet her teacher and explore her classroom (and the new school, if she’s changing schools) before school begins.

Prepare her teachers and her special education team, if she has one, for her special needs. Although many kids with sensory issues have IEPs, a new teacher who reads it is not going to take in a full picture of what your child’s special needs are when she hasn’t even put a name to a face for any of her students yet. Consider writing a short, upbeat letter to her new classroom teacher explaining what some of her challenges are, what accommodations work for her, and how well your child articulates her needs, self-advocates, and regulates her system. Can she respond to a verbal warning to “settle down,” or does she need to be reminded to use a specific self-calming technique that works for her? Be sure to keep your letter positive, helpful, and optimistic.

Back to school can be a tough transition for children with sensory processing issues, but there ARE ways to ease the transition.

Prepare him with supplies that work for him. Kids with sensory issues often are very disorganized and need someone to set up and teach them how to use organizational systems for managing their homework and school papers. If your school has a specific assignment notebook students are to use, and systems your child is expected to master right away, it’s best to know ahead of time. Attend parent orientation and consider talking to his teacher before school begins to be sure he’s able to begin using the new system right away without too many bumps in the road. Be sure, too, that he’s given plenty of time and leeway to master the organizational system (no punishments for losing assignments when he’s getting used to a new system!). It will take extra time and patience to figure out why he’s losing papers or forgetting to do assignments. Ask the teacher if you can have your child check in with her at the beginning and end of the day to be sure all necessary materials are where they need to be. Make use of backpacks and folders with many pockets but be sure your child is consistent in using those pockets. It’s helpful for your child to know his snack is always on the outside pocket of his backpack and his homework to be handed in is always in the same folder pocket.

Prepare him with clothes that work for him. Many sensory kids find it difficult to transition from summer clothing into fall clothing, and from favorite summer clothes to school clothing or school uniforms. Be patient, be willing to launder new clothing multiple times to make it softer, and be accepting of his need to wear shorts and sandals longer than the other kids do as autumn arrives. Check these the online stores for soft clothing options that may work for your child:

www.luvmum.com

www.tereskids.com

www.hannaandersson.com

www.smartknitkids.com

www.ezsox.com

Get involved in helping your sensory child get organized EARLY. Don’t wait until the homework notices start arriving!

 

More quick tips for helping your sensory child at school, especially for teachers: www.sensorysmartparent.com

Buying anything this from Amazon and its affiliates such as Drugstore dot com? Please consider buying it through http://www.sensorysmartparent.com (click on the copy of Raising a Sensory Smart Child and you’ll be at Amazon’s site) or VIA THIS LINK to help offset the costs of the Sensory Smart News and the Sensory Smart Parent website! Thank you for your support!

 


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Today is Backpack Awareness Day: Is your child’s backpack too heavy?

While sensory kids can benefit from wearing a heavy backpack because of the deep pressure input (also known as proprioceptive input) it provides, and certainly proprioceptive input needs to be part of a sensory diet at school, a too-heavy backpack is a problem. Because our kids often have organizational issues, they can end up overloading their backpacks with items they don’t need, causing muscle strain. AOTA, the American Occupational Therapy Association, offers these tips for National Backpack Awareness Day: TIPS.

Keep in mind that a rolling backpack may be your best option.

Backpacks and ruckpacks rule: No more than 15 percent of body weight

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Filed under backpacks, heavy work, organizational issues, Practical tips for sensory issues, proprioceptive input, schools, sensory diet, sensory diet at school, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder in the news

What is motor planning?

Apraxia-kids.org is a wonderful organization dedicated to helping kids with motor planning issues. Here’s an article on their site about what motor planning is and how OT can help.

In short, praxis or motor planning is the planning and execution of a series of movements. Apraxia or dyspraxia of speech means there’s a glitch in turning your thought into spoken words–you can’t quite coordinate the movements of your lips, tongue, facial muscles, and breath to get out what you’re trying to say. This is also called oral dyspraxia. Global dyspraxia is poor motor planning of other movements, such as tying your shoe, putting on your socks, and so on.

Kids with poor body awareness due to sensory issues often have motor planning problems as well. If you can’t feel the food in your mouth, you stuff too much in and then how do you coordinate swallowing it? Better to avoid that mushy food that confuses you… See how it works?

Motor planning is a form of organization. So many kids with SPD have organizational issues, not just organizing body movements with motor planning but also organizing thoughts and ideas, language, time, and possessions. They’re the kids that tidy their room by placing the candy wrapper neatly on the bookshelf and the books under the bed where they fit nicely. They’re the kids who can’t quite grasp time and are always running late because they can’t judge how long a process takes.

Does your child have motor planning issues that affect his speech or his everyday activities. Apraxia-kids.org is a great resource.

Motor planning is the planning and execution of a series of movements

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