Category Archives: special education

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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Special Education, School Accommodations, and the 4 Cs

The New York Times has an interesting article on special education accommodations in two highly praised NYC charter schools. Schools that receive federal funding must provide special education services (although a notable exception is the voucher/”choice” program in Milwaukee Public Schools; there is a lawsuit pending because the “choice” isn’t really a “choice” if your child has an IEP–the schools get to cherry pick and they rarely take special ed students). Regardless of where you are able to get your child into school, the accommodations for his disability need to be appropriate for him. One size does not fit all! 

 

How do you work with a school to get the right accommodations for your special education child?  The four Cs: Curiosity, Creativity, Collaboration, and Communication.

 

The article talks about two children who are highly distractible. Movement, such as a walk in the hall a few times a day, may be enough for one particular child to stay focused in a classroom of 23 children. For another child, it may not be enough. Also, let’s not forget that with sensory processing disorder, some kids are underaroused and some are overaroused. The underaroused ones may be distracted but very quiet about it–you often find them draped over a chair in the back of the room, picking at their sweaters. The overaroused ones may be distracted and hyperactive–they’re the ones who get into trouble and are more likely to be removed from class. Then too, if a child is gifted, she may be picking up enough information to do well on tests, but underachieving given her talents. How do we address the needs of all students who have learning differences? We start by understanding and respecting those differences. Then we rely on curiosity, creativity, collaboration, and communication, the 4 Cs, in order to alter the learning environment and curriculum to be appropriate for the child.

 

What do curiosity and creativity require? Any brain scientist will tell you that to awaken these qualities that are part of executive function, you have to quiet the limbic brain where you experience fear and anger. Getting angry at a child for not behaving or performing the way you’d like her to shuts down your creativity and sense of optimism and possibility ( which opens you to a sense of curiosity and wonder). On an MRI, you can actually see the blood flow to the front of the brain, where executive function is located, reduced when blood flow increases to the back of the brain and the limbic system, where fear and anger are experienced.

 

What do collaboration and communication require? Emotional intelligence, respect, and good communication skills among all team members. “Mother knows best” or “leave it to the professionals” are attitudes rooted in ego, that is, rooted in the fear that “If I’m not in control, and I’m not seen as THE expert, then I’m a failure.” And what does fear do? Again, it blocks us from our curiosity and creativity. Finding a new way to approach a problem, or a better way to express ourselves, requires executive function, not limbic brain fear. Our kids need us to put aside our egos and make the best possible effort to communicate respectfully and effectively with all members of the team, including the child.

What special education accommodations does your child need? How will you work with the school to ensure they’re provided?

And as our kids get older, they need to be more involved in the decisions regarding their schooling. They need to learn to self-advocate in a socially acceptable way. If a student is assigned a regular seat in September and then, in October, becomes extremely distracted by the construction noise outside the window, and would hear better if he moved seats, will he speak up for himself? Will the teacher notice? Will the parent have any clue? Have we taught our kids to let go of fear, anger, and resentment and use their executive function to become creative (“I could ask to change seats and solve my problem”) and communicative (“I could ask nicely”) within the classroom? Do they have the confidence to express their needs appropriately and collaboratively problem solve?

 

What’s more, we have to remember that we’re the adults and that doesn’t just mean we make the final decisions because we’re the authority figures. It means we have to be bigger people. When a child lashes out verbally, are we being the bigger person when we immediately engage in a power struggle? Or are we being the bigger person when we take a deep breath, observe what’s going on, and use our creativity, curiosity, and collaborative skills to discover the root of the problem and address it?

 

Our kids are complicated, but we make life easier when we take the time to calm our own anxiety, fear, and anger and get curious, creative, collaborative, and communicative. Only then can we find the right accommodations for our special kids.

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Filed under A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., classroom accommodations sensory, exercise and movement for sensory kids, IEP, schools, sensory diet at school, sensory processing disorder, special education

60 first graders, 4 teachers, one open classroom = Sensory Hell

Do I laugh or cry at the misguided professionals who borrowed an idea from an elite private prep school to create a overpopulated first-grade classroom  for public school children, a group that includes kids with sensory processing issues?  According to the New York Times article, the class is held in an open area with 60 first graders and 4 teachers who can all hear and see what’s going on with the other groups. Transitions that involve a change of activity and moving the children to a different part of the room are a nightmare, which is frustrating for the teaching team.

Up to ten percent of children have sensory processing differences that make everyday sensations such as background noise or visual clutter incredibly intense experiences that are difficult for the brain to process, distracting, and anxiety provoking. Although we can be grateful our own kids aren’t in the sensory hell of 60 kids, 4 teachers, no walls, this story is a good reminder of how important it is to be aware of how sensory kids experience auditory and visual clutter.

Neurotypical people and children have the ability to automatically “turn down the volume” on sensory input that isn’t important and “turn up the volume” (that is, pay attention to) priority sensory input. Neurotypical children can usually tune out the sound of a truck rolling by a classroom, a dog barking outside, a chair scraping as someone pulls it out, or the squeak of a marker on a whiteboard isn’t important noise–unless they’re bored or antsy because they’re hungry or tired of sitting. However, most of the time they probably won’t notice the sound or, if they do, they automatically know it’s unimportant and they don’t instantly break their focus. Of course, younger children do get distracted by sounds they find especially interesting–the sound of money jangling in a bag, described in the article, would probably excite a six-year-old eager to see how much money it is. The sound of a dog barking outside a classroom door might elicit excitement (“Ooo, there’s a doggie in the building? Can I see him? Can I pet him?) or anxiety (“Oh no, a dog. I’m scared! My aunt’s dog bit me once!”).

Imagine, though, that your brain simply can’t block out the sound of children’s feet as they move across the room, or the teacher talking to a different class. Imagine that your brain is taking in the sight of 60 kids all moving, some of them moving suddenly, or bursting into giggles that pierce your ears because of your auditory sensitivities. Your brain can’t process all this information quickly enough and some of it is being processed as danger signals. Sudden high-pitched sound? Sudden movement to your right? Your body responds with panic: the fight or flight response. You start chewing your fingertips and rocking, shutting down and not hearing the teacher’s instructions. You feel yourself getting agitated, and when another child moves too close to you, you take a swing at her. You feel yourself so excited by all the stimulation that you start hand flapping and making silly noises–which the other kids laugh at, which makes you more excited, so you start bopping your head side to side and rolling on the ground. Fight, flight, sensory overload–these are not responses that will help you learn in this environment. And if you have poor self-regulation, which many sensory kids have much longer than neurotypical children do, you’re not going to come back to a calm and alert state simply because the teacher says, “Tommy, calm down now.”

Does this sound familiar? Are you seeing these behaviors and situations in a classroom of just 20-25 kids? If there’s a child with SPD in that classroom, and statistics tell us there is, the answer is “absolutely.”

So what’s a parent or teacher to do?

In general, kids with sensory issues function better in smaller classrooms because of the lower amount of stimulation. Any time you can reduce sensory stimulation and sudden transitions, it will be easier for all children, but especially those with sensory processing differences, to focus and remain calm and alert. Many parents have found that having their child with SPD in a private school classroom with 8 children is more supportive of him than a public school classroom with 30 children, but then there’s the issue of can you get special educational services (such as OT for sensory issues) paid for by the school district if your child is in private school? It’s very difficult.

Small private school classroom but no services, large public school classroom but services, including in-class services? It’s a tough call for many parents. Whatever choices you have before you, do check out the information on my website, SensorySmartParent.com, about helping your child at school (start HERE) and the chapter on Advocating for Your Child at School in Raising a Sensory Smart Child. There are MANY ways to make classrooms more user friendly for children with sensory processing issues, and many of the accommodations are simple, low cost, or no cost. You can begin to set up a sensory diet for your child today (hopefully, with the help of a sensory smart OT). No child should be put in “sensory hell.”

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Filed under anxiety, auditory processing disorders, autism and sensory issues, back to school for sensory kids, books on SPD, boys in school, schools, sensory diet at school, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder symptoms, sensory seeking, SPD and auditory, special education

Forthcoming documentary on helping kids with behavioral issues

I just pledged to help fund this forthcoming documentary on helping kids with behavioral issues, which is being filmed by an Oscar-winning documentarian. It’s clear from the clip that this will be an uplifting, inspiring, and educational documentary. It’s my dream that films like this one will wake up some of the less enlightened folks out there who think that all behavioral problems stem from laziness, character flaws, and bad parenting. ALL kids, whether or not they have learning differences, deserve to go to a school where they feel honored and respected, where they are able to learn academics and social skills.

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School sensory diet and the IEP

My coauthor, Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, wrote an excellent piece on the sensory diet at school and the type of IEP goals an OT needs to write to help kids who have sensory processing disorder.

Sensory accommodations should include activities to help the child get calmer and more focused, opportunities to avoid sensory input and regroup, and accommodations for homework and tests as well as for classes such as art, music, and physical education. The IEP should also spell out the agreed upon discipline procedures for the child with sensory issues who cannot regulate her system like a neurotypical child can and is prone to a fight-or-flight panic response of withdrawal or aggression.

Not happy with the school’s proposed IEP? Don’t sign it. Do your research and call for a new IEP meeting. I’ve always found parents in support groups to be enormously helpful in guiding each other through the IEP process. Others have been there before and can offer insights, ideas, and emotional support. I highly recommend in-person as well as online support groups such as the ones at yahoogroups.com and apraxia-kids.org

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Filed under IEP, online support groups, schools, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, special education, Uncategorized

Helping Kids with SPD at school especially with handwriting

While this Pedia Staff interview with my coauthor Lindsey Biel, OTR/L is aimed at professionals, her straightforward way of explaining how she helps kids with handwriting, and setting up accommodations for helping kids with SPD (sensory processing disorder) at school, and more are helpful for any parent.

Does your child receive OT for handwriting? Remember, handwriting and composing written work are two different skills. Your child may need the two separated out from each other in order if her poor handwriting abilities are holding her back from expressing her thoughts “in writing.”

This week I got an ultra ergonomic keyboard and mouse and dictation software to help reduce the stress on my hands from keyboarding. I stopped handwriting anything other than short grocery lists long ago, and yet I am a full-time writer. Perhaps that’s why I totally get why kids need the skills of handwriting and composing separated out, not mushed together as if they were one thing! Ask your school about handwriting help via occupational therapy services and ask for an evaluation (follow up your request in writing by certified mail to ensure they follow through promptly). Ask about keyboarding and assistive technology, and an IEP accommodation that allows the child to dictate her answers.

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Filed under handwriting, Lindsey Biel, OT, Practical tips for sensory issues, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, schools, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, special education