Are You an Alphabet Soup Mom? Getting Beyond Labels

Just the other day, I was trying to explain to someone that we parents of special needs kids are, more often than not, dealing with an alphabet soup of diagnoses. It starts with one set of letters, disconnected from your actual child: EI (early intervention), OT (the occupational therapist who evaluates him as part of his EI evaluation)—or perhaps PT (physical therapist), or SLP (speech language pathologist). Then you get your IFSP which will later turn into an IEP and your alphabet diagnoses: SPD, ADHD, PDD-NOS, maybe FAS, RAD, ODD, OCD,  perhaps the CCC and the WPA and…oops, those are the New Deal programs of president FDR!

 

I think one of the hardest things in the beginning is to accept is that your child’s loveable quirks are now being pathologized: treated as problems, or symptoms of disorders, disabilities, and dysfunctions, and reduced to labels. Why is it a problem that my son doesn’t hold a crayon well at 27 months? He doesn’t like coloring. So what? Why are you grilling me about how he responds to being toweled off after a shower? So he hugs me hard. He’s a sweet and affectionate toddler! “Well, we think he has SID.”

 

And so, the stack of  soup labels begins to accumulate. For us, there were a lot of actual words rather than letters: One was apraxia, also known as dyspraxia, oral apraxia, verbal dyspraxia, global dyspraxia—it’s important to have as many terms as possible to make mom and dad’s eyes glaze over and keep them doing internet searches til the wee hours—damn it, what keyword will get me to the information I need?!! We also got SPD, which at the time was SID or DSI or maybe SI dysfunction, not to be confused with Semantic Pragmatic Disorder or Semantic Pragmatic Language Disorder which is sort of like autism in that it involves language pragmatics…. I never did quite understand that but I think it didn’t apply even though the SLP said there were pragmatics issues. .. . And of course, it was SID, not SIDS, which is Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

 

Pass the Ibuprofen.

 

OK, so what else was on the IFSP (individualized family service plan) that would turn into an IEP when he aged out of EI (grew too old for the early intervention program and got an individualized education plan through the school district)? Fine motor delay—they picked that up. Receptive and expressive language processing disorders. Wait—were those disorders, or delays? I wrestled with that one for a long time and finally concluded that apraxia can’t fairly be called a delay. When a later talker finally can string a sentence together and points to his leg and says, “This is my blood song,” I’ll change my mind (translation: “blood stream.” Even at 4, my son was fascinated by the inner workings of the body, and with his word retrieval issues, “stream” became “song”). When does a delay become a disability, and when does a disability become a difference society needs to accept and stop trying to fix?

 

Once you get your cluster of labels, you find they change, or no longer fit. Fun, fun, fun! And then, when your little one begins school, you have to figure out what little boxes to check on the IEP to cover all your child’s issues. Speech Impaired—okay, that works for a language disability. But where does SPD get acknowledged? OHI. Other health impaired. Welcome to the school’s own alphabet soup!

 

It’s so hard when you think you have a handle on “what’s wrong with my child” then you get another soup label pasted onto him and his ever-thickening file, but it’s part of being a special needs parent. You have to remember that underneath it all, your kid is a unique person with his own set of qualities, and aspects of himself that can delight you one day and drive you crazy the next. You need the labels to get services, and you hope that people don’t scoff at your labels and your outsider’s evaluations and secretly think, “Yeah, I’ll tell you what’s really wrong with that kid. A lack of discipline!” Ah yes, the old “bad child, bad parent” diagnosis. This is not a medical or school diagnosis, or a functional diagnosis that a therapist issues. Apparently, any stranger on the street is qualified to issue this diagnosis, and the larger the crowd of onlookers, and the more stressed out you and your child are, the more likely it is that you’ll receive the “bad child, bad parent” diagnosis from some passerby.

 

Labels lead to services at school, and more labels such as OHI. Despite the alphabet soup, kids are still kids.

The upside to all of this craziness is we special needs moms just plain old “get” each other, don’t we? We’ve been there, done that. IEP meeting today? I don’t have to know your child’s diagnosis. I know you’re going to need some emotional support and a pep talk from the rest of us today! Did someone really say to you, “Are you sure it’s not just…behavioral?” I share your primal scream!

 

Being a mom of a kid with labels has another upside. It’s made me become more educated and more curious about other disabilities which helps me to help others. Sometimes, I can’t believe how much I know about autism for someone whose child doesn’t have autism. For years, I’ve been fascinated by the overlap between his symptoms and the symptoms of kids with Asperger’s. Let’s talk about the vacuuming thing… I get that. And the puzzle thing, and the Thomas the Tank Engine thing! And the concrete language thing, the repeating of lines from movies…yep, yep, yep.  Let’s talk giftedness and 2E.  I learn SO much by osmosis when chatting with the SPD moms whose kids are also on the spectrum. Lately, I’ve been learning more about FAS and RAD from another mom, and know that someday I’ll be passing along some ideas and insights to a mom who is dealing with ADHD and bipolar disorder but thinking maybe there there’s RAD going on.

 

Some call us warrior moms but I don’t always feel like fighting, or it seems counterproductive Sometimes, my greatest strength is in being creative, or doing research, or observing, or just forgetting it all and enjoying my child. Maybe we’re the alphabet soup parents, enjoying the richness of our experience, noticing how all the conditions blend together in the bowl but sometimes catch your eye when you dig a spoon in and focus on one or two.

 

How about you? Are you an alphabet soup mom? Have you ever passed along information about a disorder your child doesn’t have but you’ve learned about from another alphabet soup parent?

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Filed under diagnoses, IEP, labels, OT, prognosis for kids with SPD, sensory integration dysfunction, sensory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder diagnosis, sensory processing disorder symptoms

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

Pink Toys, Boy Toys, Imagination Toys: Should We Push Our Kids to Play Differently?

The viral video of an adorable girl named Riley venting about how “the girls all get the pink princess stuff” has garnered a lot of attention, and inspired a thoughtful Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by writer Peggy Orenstein called “Should the World of Toys Be Gender Free?”

I’m old enough to remember when this controversy began in the late 1960s, when unisex toys and clothes were the hottest thing, and feminists were baffled by why, after reading “Stories for Free Children” from Ms. magazine to young boys and girls, they were still seeing boys gravitate toward trucks and guns and girls gravitate toward dolls. I finally got clued into what that was all about years later when I observed my own son, who was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and multiple developmental delays at age 2, playing with toys. His speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist explained to me that imagination play, and collaborative play (“You be the cop and I’ll be the robber”) requires a certain amount of language skills, which requires the neural networks in the brain to be at a particular level of development. They told me it made sense that my son, who had verbal apraxia and a significant receptive/express speech delay, was only engaging in cause-and-effect play (“I drop the marble down the chute and it makes a cool noise!”) and parallel play (“I push my Thomas the Tank Engine train and that boy across the table will push his.”) I would not see a leap forward in imaginative play until he took a leap forward in language skills. I kid you not, the week that I noticed he was now stringing sentences together in a way that made sense rather than jumping from one thought to the next was the week I saw him animate the toy cars he loved to line up. “I’m a blue car,” one told the other. “Well, that’s okay. I’m a red truck.” Wow! Never before had I seen such clear evidence that my SLP and OT had an excellent grasp of development.  I also came to understand why my son, who spent a lot of time in his dad’s antique toys and collectibles store, had always preferred to push the button on the Buzz Lightyear doll rather than animate him, and loved to push the 1960s pink girls’ carpet sweeper as much as he loved to vacuum at home. Cause-and-effect play was his preference, and Thomas the Tank Engine was a major force in pushing him toward more imaginative play–which involved cooperative play with other kids who shared the public Thomas tables at FAO Schwartz and Toys R Us. I began to learn more and more about play and language, and discovered a marvelous book by a child psychologist, Lawrence Cohen, about using play to stretch developmental skills called Playful Parenting. It taught me how to get down on the floor with my son and engage in play with him, asking questions as the blue car or the red truck and suggesting activities, which expanded his language skills: “WHY do we want to drive over to the couch?” “BECAUSE we can park underneath it. It’s going to rain. We don’t want to get wet!”

So do we let our boys or girls stick with their favorite toys because those toys match with their their natural preferences, whether it’s because they are kids who think in pictures, kids with language processing difficulties, kids who are verbally gifted and highly empathetic but not skilled at visual/spatial tasks, or just kids who have typical language wiring for their gender? We know girls develop more whole brain connections, necessary for language development, earlier than boys do and continue to hold that advantage throughout life, but nature shouldn’t dictate our kids’ experiences. So how much do we push the child who wants to do puzzles alone to play with others and to try out toys that take him out of his comfort zone?

I think when we take our anxiety out of the mix, and push our kids to try something new using the just right challenge (not so much pushing that they resist aggressively, not so little that they make no progress in stretching themselves), they benefit, regardless of what the activity is. When we constantly send the message that “your type of play is inferior,” whether it’s play they do alone or pink princess/Barbie play, we make them question their worth. Being a bit lopsided in your play and your preferences isn’t such a bad thing, but we also want our kids to have the benefit of a variety of experiences and friendships. As Orenstein points out, there is some evidence that boys with sisters do better at relationships down the road than boys without sisters do, and girls with older brothers tend to be better at visual/spatial tasks than other girls are (although apparently my brother’s love for all things Tinker Toy and Lincoln Log had little effect on my brain…) Maybe girly Legos in pink and purple, with kits for building a spa or a cafe for the Lego figures to hang out in, isn’t such a terrible thing if it gets some girls out of their comfort zone a bit and learning some building and visual/spatial skills–and working with boys and girls who love the visual/spatial aspect of Legos. Maybe it’s not so bad if the girl or boy who loves to construct Star Wars vehicles out of Lego shows the kid with the pink and purple set how to modify that cafe to be more interesting. I still recall my brother’s GI Joe and my Barbie, Francie, and Skipper getting dressed to go swimming in the pool on the side of our home, which my brother figured out would be less muddy if we lined it with Saran Wrap. Yes, he had to put up with my girlfriend fussing over GI Joe’s outfit before the gang got into the Desert Jeep and got carried outside, but my Barbies’ hair was a lot less filthy thanks to my brother’s engineering skills.

Are there any toys or games that you’ve found bring different kids with different skills together? Please share!

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Filed under kids toys, language processing disorders, sensory smart toys and equipment, Uncategorized

Sensory Smart Toys Shopping Ideas

Shopping for sensory smart toys and equipment for a child with sensory processing issues? Here are some ideas I included in the December 2010 edition of the Sensory Smart News.

Sensory Smart Tip: Choose Toys That Are Fun

and Support Development

The number of toys and products marketed to parents and therapists who work with children who have sensory processing disorder and/or autism has exploded since the book Raising a Sensory Smart Child first was published in 2005. In the book, Lindsey Biel, OTR/L, and Nancy Peske recommend 50 favorite toys for kids (included below) and it continues to be an excellent guide for finding toys children both enjoy and use to address sensory issues and developmental skills. If you’re looking for or purchasing gifts for a child with sensory issues these days, here’s some key advice:


You don’t have to spend a lot of money. In fact, some of the best toys and products you can purchase are small and inexpensive. Every small child should have a Play-Doh Fun Factory, for example, which sells for under $10. Bubbles with bubble wands, modeling clay or Silly Putty, Wikki Sticks (wax-covered yarn for crafts), puzzles, handheld games such as Simon, and classic games such as Candyland or Kerplunk are excellent inexpensive toys that promote everything from tactile exploration to fine motor and visual memory skills.  

Buy the classics, and consider classic original versions. There’s a reason certain toys are perennial sellers: Their play value can’t be beat. You may find some of these toys in excellent condition on sites such as eBay and Craig’s List, or even at second-hand stores. Interestingly enough, sometimes the older versions are actually better for our kids because they tend to be sturdier and come without all the annoying chips for sounds and lights that are so distracting. Don’t underestimate how much kids will love Legos and Duplos building blocks, wagons, hand puppets, and so on. Thomas the Tank Engine toys are great for helping children move from cause-and-effect, parallel (independent) play to imaginative, cooperative play.

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Buy toys that get kids moving.
 Ask your child’s sensory smart occupational therapist and/or physical therapist what type of movement toys she feels would be appropriate for your child, and ask her if she can work with him on using toys that involve coordination and gross motor skills. You may need to start slowly, such as with a three-wheeled scooter instead of a two-wheeled one, or a very small bike with training wheels rather than a bike that the bike store salesperson says is the correct size for your child (and be sure your child uses a properly fitted helmet).  A Sit-n-Spin can be a good choice for learning motor planning skills while getting vestibular input, but a Dizzy Disc for preschoolers or a Dizzy Disc Jr. for older kids an provide that input to a child with poorer motor planning skills. Sleds and mini trampolines (which are safer than full-sized ones) are great options too.

Have a ball. Balls can be incredibly helpful for developing a multitude of skills and now many modified balls are available, including ones that are easier to catch or throw or which provide sensory input via a textured surface (Gertie balls, koosh balls) or sounds created by movement (such as the Wiggly Giggly ball). Exercise balls are great for kids to sit on for input and for rolling over them to provide deep pressure: Your OT can show you many ways to use them. Why not keep balls in the yard, in your car, and even your purse so that they’re available for your child to get movement or sensory input at any time?

Be cautious about “active” video games.
 Although some of the newer games, particularly Xbox360 with Kinect which requires that the child use her body as the controller, encourage movement, don’t assume that your child will use them to get the aerobic exercise he needs. Wii Fit offers options that provide very little if any aerobic activity (although the quieter games on Wii Fit can be excellent for balance training which many of our kids need help with). I also has game options that will actually help you child work up a sweat, but observe your child to be sure she’s actually using videogames in a very active way. Then too, if your child has her heart set on Super Smash Brothers or another inactive video game, have her jump on a mini-trampoline while playing to give her exercise as well as build her hand-eye coordination.

Choose developmentally appropriate toys.
 One of the challenges of having a child with sensory issues is accepting that our kids may be far behind their peers in being able to play appropriately with particular toys. Offer your child choices that are in the “just right” challenge zone, which build their skills without being overwhelmingly difficult for them to use. If you’re giving a toy as a gift, think about choosing something that he will actually enjoy. Go ahead and buy the therapy toys he will resist at first, but if you feel he might get immediately frustrated by them, think about having your OT introduce them as part of therapy.

Buy books. If your child resists reading, try picture books and visual dictionaries, optical challenge books such as Where’s Waldo?, nonfiction coffee table books on trains, dinosaurs, and the like, pop-up books, scratch-and-sniff books, and so on. If you’re thinking about buying an eReader, note that some children with visual processing issues or vision issues find them much easier to read from than ordinary books due to the adjustable type size, low contrast, and auditory option (available on many books). You can even “gift” an electronic book to a child’s Kindle now and many are very low priced (although selection can be limited). Also consider audio books and mp3 downloads.

While you’re shopping, please consider buying some toys for Toys for Tots or other charities, and for your child’s school OT or PT (they may have a wish list or you could give them a gift card for a therapy catalogue or store such as The Learning Center).

Finally, remember that what kids want even more than toys is our attention. Playing a simple board game with your child or teaching her how to catch a ball may create one of her fondest childhood memories.


 
Check it out!

Be sure to check out Lindsey and Nancy’s Fifty Favorite Toysl ist in Raising a Sensory Smart Child. Also,you can shop for toys and equipment by developmental skill or sensory channel at:http://sensorysmartparent.com/toysequipment.html

 

NEW WEBSITE AND BLOG: Get new and up-to-date information and support for parents of children and teens with sensory processing disorder at www.SensorySmartParent.com and sign up for the newsletter and blog.

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Filed under affordable sensory items, kids toys, Practical tips for sensory issues, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, sensory processing disorder, sensory smart toys and equipment, Uncategorized, Used sensory items

Fine motor delay? Fine motor skill benchmarks to watch for in your child

This month’s Sensory Smart News is chock full of tips for developing fine motor skills in your child. I think it’s important to take a variety of approaches and keep working on those skills in fun ways to bring your child up to speed with her pre-handwriting and handwriting skills. Of course, language processing difficulties and short-term memory issues (which may include motor memory or visual memory problems) can factor into a child’s difficulty with handwriting, but very often, fine motor skills play a big role.

We don’t often think about handwriting before kids actually have to do it starting in kindergarten–I remember thinking, why is my son’s OT through the Early Intervention program concerned about whether he can draw with a crayon at 27 months old?–but the child who is behind in fine motor skills will need lots of extra help to catch up and be able to handwrite well in school. If your child is trying to compose his thoughts in a coherent way, the last thing he needs is to be struggling with writing them on paper using a pencil.

Fine motor skills play an important role in handwriting.

So where should your child be with fine motor skills? Here are some fine motor skill benchmarks from Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues (a complete list of skill benchmarks can be found in our chapter on Dealing with Developmental Delays).

7 months or so:

–can bang 2 objects together

–can poke objects with index finger

–good grasp and voluntary release

13 months or so:

–mark paper with crayon

–put 3 or more objects into a small container

16 months or so:

–points with index finger

–builds tower using 2 cubes

18 months or so:

–one hand holds object stable while the other manipulates it (Oops! That was a biggie I missed in my own child–fortunately, once he began early intervention at 27 months, I had my OT, Lindsey Biel,working with him hand over hand to develop this skill)

–scribbles spontaneously

24 months or so:

–snips with scissors

–strings one one-inch bead

–imitates vertical stroke and circular scribble

5 years old or so:

–prints first name

–writes numbers 1 through 5

If you are concerned with your child’s progress in fine motor skills (using fingers and hands), gross motor skills (using larger muscles), speech, socialization, or other skills, I urge you to investigate and get answers now. Don’t be afraid or intimidated! You can’t possibly tell if he will grow out of it or catch up on his own. Early intervention makes a HUGE difference because children’s brains are more easily trained when they are very young. When in doubt, check it out!

Here is a link to a list of early intervention providers in your state who can do a FREE evaluation of your child from birth to age 3 if you suspect developmental delays: http://sensorysmarts.com/ei_providers_by_state.html

You can also Google “early intervention” and your state’s name.

If your child qualifies for services, they will be FREE or on a sliding scale depending on your state’s policies. If your child is over age 3, or in school, ask your local school district to evaluate him. Reaffirm your request in writing by certified mail.

You can also consult a private OT for help with handwriting issues and fine motor skill delay. Be sure to ask about whether she is familiar with and experienced with working with children with sensory issues.

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Filed under evaluations, fine motor skills, handwriting, Lindsey Biel, sensory processing disorder

Alex Doman, coauthor of Healing at the Speed of Sound, on Sound Health, The Listening Program, and His Amplified EBook

I had a fascinating conversation today with Alex Doman, coauthor (with Don Campell, who wrote The Mozart Effect) of Healing at the Speed of Sound: How What We Hear Transforms Our Brains and Our Lives, on my online radio show. We talked about sound health, The Listening Program (a therapeutic listening program incorporating classical music and nature sounds, produced by Alex’s company, Advanced Brain Technologies), auditory processing issues, and the amplified eBook, also known as an enhanced eBook, version of Healing at the Speed of Sound. You can listen to the archive (it’s halfway in to our 30 min. show) at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/letstalkaboutbooks

I learned about how sound affects us and how listening to and creating music is something all human cultures have, so our brains are actually wired for music. Did you know that the auditory sense is the first one a baby develops in utero? Or that our hearts “entrain” to music, so that music can slow down or speed up our heart rate?

Sound health is something we often don’t think about, but even if you or your child don’t have auditory processing issues, you should check out this book in order to learn how sound and music can drain you and make you irritable, or actually improve your health, your mood, and your energy level. It can even speed up post-operative surgery and help you manage physical pain.

Now, if you get the hardcover version, you’ll have to pop over to your computer to check out the audio, visual, and informational links (most of which are at http://www.healingatthespeedofsound.com But you can also buy the amplified version for your electronic device (such as an iPad, smart phone, or the new Kindle Fire) and click through the links, or enjoy digital material that is embedded into the “book” itself. In fact, the amplified version has some bonus extras you can access, such as interviews with the authors. Hmm, maybe I will talk myself into buying the Fire ($199 compared to $499 for the iPad) now!

Learn about sound health and auditory processing in Healing at the Speed of Sound, released in traditional book form and as an enhanced eBook (or amplified eBook) for electronic reading devices.

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Filed under auditory processing disorders, auditory sense, autism and sensory issues, Healing at the Speed of Sound, SPD and auditory, The Listening Program

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