Handwriting

Just “Write” Pressure.

In today’s digital world it is too tempting to sideline writing and adopt or opt for easier ways of having your ideas presented to others. Typing on screen and/or keyboards or talking into your gadget is more frequent now than written communication.

Scribbling your own signature has become such a rarity. Modern technology has vastly changed how we communicate through writing. In an age where our children swipe and tap on smartphones and tablets since early childhood, the “hand” in handwriting almost seems dwindling. 

We often have questions popping up in our minds that should we pay any attention to handwriting and is it an important skill to emphasise on any more?

Right from making a grocery list, writing a personalised thank you card/message, noting down a message, to filling information in a document; handwriting is important in each of these.

The skill of handwriting continues to play a vital role not just in education but also in everyday life and employment. On the other hand, we, as a community, have been experiencing an exponential rise in academic pressure and even greater struggle with understanding writing concerns our children face.

Handwriting is a complex skill and many children have a hard time mastering it. Poor handwriting skills can make kids stressed and anxious towards their school work.

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During assessments, consultations as well as in therapy sessions, professionals are often questioned by parents, teachers and caregivers about the varied challenges seen in children, when getting written work done.

There are a number of factors that could be contributing to your child’s struggles. To enlist a few – difficulties with sizing and spacing concepts, immature or incorrect pencil grip, or number reversals, difficulty with formation of letters impacting legibility, appropriate pressure gradation, postural control and alignment, visual perceptual skills, fine motor precision, etc.

These and many other factors either individually or in combination could be resulting in making it difficult to form a good foundational base for handwriting to become a natural skill for many of our kids.

This article is throwing light on difficulties with proprioceptive gradation, that forms one of the stepping stones towards developing and improving handwriting skills.

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Proprioceptive gradation is commonly known as pressure/force gradation. Proprioception is the body’s ability to sense itself. This sensory system receives input from muscles and joints about body position, weight, pressure, movement and changes in position in space.

Our bodies are able to grade & coordinate movements based on the way our muscles move. This enables us to judge the force required for a task by exerting the “just right” force. This force exertion varies depending on the task one engages in.

Lifting a heavy basket of vegetables will require a larger force exertion for a sustained time duration as opposed to lifting a pencil kept on a table that will require a much lesser force application. Judging the appropriate amount of force required for any activity or object happens almost automatically so much that we don’t even realise the small intricate adjustments going on in the background. Routine work such as carrying the laptop, picking up pasta with a fork, brushing your teeth, picking the novel kept on the table, throwing a ball while playing with your child, and many such daily tasks require appropriate force gradation and we make them happen very smoothly without necessarily paying attention to the numerous adjustments happening in our body and brain.

 Keeping this concept in mind, now let’s relate it to handwriting. For a task as simple as writing your name you need to grade the amount of force required to hold the pencil, not press either too hard or too light on the pencil and sustain your grip from the first letter to the last.

How would your child know how to apply this “just right” force on the pencil?

Pencil pressure plays a big part in handwriting legibility, speed and control. There are a number of underlying factors that contribute to developing or act as a barrier towards “just right” force gradation. 

  • Sensory processing: The proprioceptive system allows us to move the small muscles of the hand to manipulate the pencil in fluid movements and with the correct pressure. A child having proprioceptive processing challenges may have difficulties with erasing, turning the pages of a book, keeping the paper in one piece, and stabilizing the paper with the non-writing hand while the dominant hand continues to write on the page. 
  • Fine motor challenges: When we write, the pencil is held with the index finger, middle finger, and thumb, and supported by the ring and little finger as the hand moves across a page.  An immature pencil grasp could lead to difficulties with pencil control making the writing task more tiring and frustrating due to the amount of effort put in just to hold the pencil or writing utensil accurately. 
  • Postural alignment and Motor control: While sitting to write a child needs his/her core and proximal group of muscles to engage actively so that he/she can sustain appropriate upright posture for longer duration without getting tired. This means that the child should be able to keep his trunk upright without slouching and be able to keep his shoulder, arm, elbow and forearm stable enough so that he can use the distal parts like hand and fingers to hold the writing utensil in an effective manner for smooth and effortless writing. Poor postural alignment will greatly impact a child’s ability to write with appropriate force as he will face difficulties with precise finger movements needed to grade the pressure of writing. 
  • Environmental Factors: The writing environment plays an equally important role in the writing process. The surface used for writing, the distance/angle at which the desk or book is kept, the girth and length of the writing utensil as well as the amount of sensory feedback the writing utensil is providing could affect the force gradation.  

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Working on proprioceptive input and hand strengthening can help with pencil pressure. Proprioceptive activities allow the muscles to “wake up” with heavy pressure. Moving against resistance by pushing or pulling gives the muscles and joints an opportunity to grade pressure.

Try some or a mixture of the following ideas & strategies to help your children become more aware of the amount of pressure they are using when writing. 

  • Active resistive games like floor or wall push-ups, tasks involving weight-bearing on hand like wheelbarrow walking, crab-walking, bear-walking and other animal walks; garden activities like rock wall climbing, jungle gyms, monkey bars, etc. are proprioceptive rich activities that will help with postural control and in providing proprioceptive input. 
  • To improve fine motor control and precision various activities like punching holes, small beading, theraputty, fidget ball,  finger or brush painting, putting magnets on a refrigerator, use of finger clips in activity, collecting coins in a box, tweezers and pom pom balls can be incorporated. 
  • Encourage writing on a vertical surface with the wrist in extension will not only aid in improving pencil grip but will also help in providing appropriate postural alignment needed for hand-eye coordination. 
  • Using textured paper like bubble wrap paper, tin foil, foam paper, sand papers, etc. can be used to help kids become more aware of the amount of pressure they are exerting through the pencil when writing.
  • Practice handwriting by placing a sheet of paper over a piece of sandpaper. The resistance of the sandpaper is great heavy work for small muscles of the hand. 
  • Wrap a bit of play dough or putty around the pencil as a grip. Encourage the child to hold the pencil with a grasp that does not press deeply into the dough. Encourage using “just right” pressure. Using a pencil gripper while writing can help with appropriate placement of fingers to hold the pencil and improve force exerted while writing. 
  • Pencil weights or Weighted pencils can be helpful in providing sensory feedback through the hands.
  • Write with a mechanical pencil. If too much pressure is applied the lead of the pencil will break. This is a good way to provide feedback on modulation of pressure. If using this method, make sure the child has enough ability not to get frustrated quickly.
  • Cognitive strategies like providing your child with the sample of handwritten work with correct pressure. Provide terms for the way he/she writes. Encourage “just right” writing and not “too hard” or “too soft”. Write the sample word thrice on the same sheet of paper: very light, one with just right pressure and the third, and with too much pressure. This could be a scale or gradient that your child can use as a visual reminder of what is expected and where he stands with regards to pressure application. 
  • Begin with activities that provide more inputs to the sensory systems and work on skill building for the fine motor use of fingers, before moving onto the feedback based and cognitive strategies. 

These strategies can help in building awareness and enable your child to take small steps towards developing as well as maintaining “just write” pencil pressure throughout the writing process.

For more information and to customise these strategies specifically for your child’s needs connect with your occupational therapist.

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For any concerns and queries regarding the blog please write to us on: reachtcfc@gmail.com or www.reachtherapycenterforchildren.com 

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AUTHOR:

Virali Gohil

Hi, I’m Virali. I am an Occupational Therapist working at Reach Therapy Center for Children. I love spending time with children and educating families about their child’s needs and development. Writing articles for this blog is one such attempt of mine in that direction.

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EDITED BY: Onissia Rebello

Anshumala Shukla

Uncategorized

Making Books our Friends in Promoting a Growth Mindset for Children

“Ever tried. Ever failed.

No matter. Try again.

Fail again. Fail better.”

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“A spill. A smear. A smudge. A tear. When you think you have made a mistake, think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful!”

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How do you feel reading words like these?

It makes me feel comforted and vulnerable about the ups and downs in this journey of life where we are constantly learning and growing!

Now, imagine these words becoming the inner voice of our children, wouldn’t that be so amazing. Words that ingrain a growth mindset in our kids. They would help them to be such brave, persevering and resilient adults!

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We’ve all known about the growth mindset, since the term was first coined by Dr. Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist.

Mindset is a “self-theory” or a personal perception—it’s how we feel about ourselves. A person with a fixed mindset believes that personal abilities are facts that cannot be changed–they say,  “I can’t.” Conversely, people with a growth mindset “believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point.

This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” A person with a growth mindset says either, “I CAN” or “I can’t… yet, but I will keep working and trying until I CAN.” A growth mindset is one that steps up to challenges, perseveres and realizes success not through intelligence but through determination and effort.

There are so many ways we can instill this mindset in our young budding minds…our children. Books being one of my favorites! I believe books can become such a powerful medium to help develop so many skills. Here is a peek into a few of my favorites that lend themselves perfectly to fostering a growth mindset.

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YOUR FANTASTIC ELASTIC BRAIN: STRETCH IT, SHAPE IT : by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D.

This book brings out an illustrative, fun and engaging introduction to the anatomy and functions of the brain which will empower our kids to S-T-R-E-T-C-H and grow their Fantastic, Elastic Brain!

Image from Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It via https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10237568-your-fantastic-elastic-brain

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BEAUTIFUL OOPS!  by Barney Saltzberg

This is one of the WOW books for me because of the sheer creativity and beauty with which the author and illustrator turned each mistake in every page into something beautiful.

Not only will it show kids they can make a mistake with their writing or art creations and turn it into something beautiful, but it can help us reflect with them about other things that can be seen as a “mistake” but can be turned around. I love the way it turns things that are normally a mess up into a beautiful picture.

Image from Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg via https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8319728-beautiful-oops

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THE MOST MAGNIFICENT THING : by Ashley Spires

What an amazing book with a beautiful, truly insightful message for young children! I just loved it through and through!! It is the story of a little girl with her bff, a puppy, who wishes to create “the most magnificent thing.”

Despite all her efforts it does not come out as planned. She is frustrated and upset, but is able to calm herself down with a walk. When she returns to look at her work, she slowly realizes the goodness and rightness in pieces of what she has created and is able to work with that to achieve something she is so happy with and proud of….

Something truly magnificent!

Image from The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires via https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18383325-the-most-magnificent-thing

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THE GIRL WHO NEVER MADE MISTAKES : by Mark Pett

This book’s main character is a young ‘Miss Perfectionist’ who fears making mistakes and in living her ‘perfect’ life, she misses out on fun activities like ice-skating with her friends. When the inevitable happens and Beatrice finally makes a mistake she learns that maybe making mistakes isn’t such a bad thing after all.

After all, there’s less stress and more fun to be had when you learn to let go and remember you’re human like everyone else. With a great message and engaging illustrations, I highly recommend this adorable picture book.

Image from The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett via https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11526654-the-girl-who-never-made-mistakes

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HOW TO CATCH A STAR

Last but not the least…this one is my FAVORITE!! Oliver Jeffers writes books like some art, some poetry which is so soothing to you! Our young hero is determined to catch a star. It’s his dream.

After waiting, jumping, and stretching though, his dream still looks and feels so far away. ‘But in his heart, the wish just wouldn’t give up.’ The big, open, colorful pages will inspire readers of all ages to keep reaching for the stars. Sometimes we need to look at goals and dreams in life in a different way. You never know where your dreams and stars may be hiding.

Image by How to catch a star via https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/425818.How_to_Catch_a_Star

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I believe one of the best gifts we can give our child is the gift of reading…and what better than a read which would enrich their lives in so many beautiful ways. And honestly, it will impact our lives as we read along with our little ones.

Happy Reading!

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* Disclaimer: 

  • The above mentioned links for the books are for reference purpose only.
  • We do not have commercial interests in any of the books discussed.
  • We are not representing any company or being paid by any company.

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Author: Hiral Sangoi

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Edited by: Onissia Rebello

Virali Gohil

Anshumala Shukla

Play · Uncategorized

Play!

It is a happy talent to know how to Play!   ~Ralph Emerson

Laughter. Running. Jumping. Climbing. Swinging. Sliding.

All these activities play an essential role in a child’s growth and development.

 

Free play, where children develop their own activities, is increasingly recognized as a fundamental component in children development. Studies prove that periods of play improve social skills, response inhibition and attention in children. Activities such as running, jumping, pretend play are especially important in development of the brain. Stressing more opportunities for play could be an effective non-medicinal method to minimize challenging behavior and facilitate brain development in children.

We, a team of Occupational Therapists at REACH THERAPY CENTER FOR CHILDREN, are dedicated in bringing awareness about all the aspects of a child’s life that need attention and care. We like to think of playgrounds as nature’s many colorful, open, hands-on classrooms, which provide tremendous learning opportunities for kids of all ages. As parents and caretakers, we shouldn’t always look at play for a child as a silly, extracurricular, optional activity, but rather an essential tool in the child’s development. Research shows that outdoor free play gives kids many valuable benefits, including the development of physical, emotional, social and cognitive skills and encourages learning in a sensory rich environment.

Play offers an ideal opportunity for children to develop their skills. It also provides greater opportunities for the parents to engage fully with their children. Despite the benefits derived from play, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children. This is clearly because the way children spend their time has changed and also because many of them are being raised in an increasingly hurried and pressured style that may limit the protective benefits they would gain from child-driven play.

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Here’s the issue: It’s amazing how a 2-year old can be handed a gadget and would just know how to use it, similar to how he would just know to use a feeding bottle when handed to him. Unfortunately, most kids today spend a lot of time doing three things: watching television, playing video games and taking lessons. Kids have access to so much technology today, and it has truly decreased the amount of time they spend engaged in physical play. Its important to limit your children’s screen time and set an example of a healthy, active lifestyle that includes plenty of play. It’s the first step toward putting your children on a path to good physical health as none of the gadget games promote self-regulation, physical skills, social skills or emotional balance.

 

Motor and Sensory Play

If you asked kids why they run, jump, swing or climb, they’ll tell you, “…because it’s fun.” But research shows outdoor play is much more than just fun, it’s necessary to help kids be physically fit and healthy. When kids are playing, they are learning reflexes and movement control, developing fine and gross motor skills and increasing flexibility and balancing skills.

      Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates your young child’s senses: touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight and hearing. Sensory activities facilitate exploration and naturally encourage children to use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and explore.

Sensory integration theory describes play as the medium for intervention. For the past 30 years, occupational therapists have used this theory to provide direct “playful” interventions for children with SPD.

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Self Confidence And Self Esteem

Outdoor play presents kids with physical challenges and free play encourages them to take risks. When kids take that risk and overcome the challenge, they develop a sense of accomplishment that leads to higher self-esteem. Free play also encourages children to develop skills that build self-confidence, such as conflict resolution and imaginative dramatic play. Co-operative play with other children and the ability to play on their own — are also important factors in building self-confidence.

sense of accomplishment

 

Group Play

Just like solitary play, equally important is group play, where kids learn with social roles and cultural rules, start developing social cognition and perspective taking skills. Group play isn’t just kids having fun with one another—it’s teaching them about real-life relationships. When children develop and test relationships, they learn self-control and negotiation skills. They also learn survival skills, independence and acceptable group activities to build on as they grow up. Group play helps children prepare for a lifetime of interacting with others.

kids-playing

Cognitive Development

A wide variety of experts agree that play is essential for a child’s brain development. Studies have shown that free play affects neurological development and determines how the neural circuits of the brain are wired. In other words, free play affects a child’s confidence, intelligence and ability to articulate. Jean Piaget, a leading child development theorist, believed that the role of play in constructing knowledge is the most clearly articulated avenue of children’s development. He once said, “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning,” and it couldn’t be more true.

group of kids playing

 

Brain and Skill Development

We are the adults we are today, partially due to free play. Play helps children develop language and reasoning skills, encourages autonomous thinking and problem solving as well as helps improve their ability to focus and control their behaviour. Play also aids children to learn, discover and develop verbal and manipulative skills, judgment and reasoning and creativity. Play experiences also teach children about consequences and risk, which helps them in decision making as they grow up. Children learn and practice many of the skills they will need as adults because of free play.

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In alignment with our Motto “ Helping Children Reach Their Full Potential ” we use child-driven play as an integral part of our intervention at REACH. We believe play is essential for learning and development for every child.

 

So let’s work together in understanding Play as a vital part of our children’s life. We would love to elaborate more in depth on this topic. Please leave us your requests and reviews in the suggestion box.

 

Thank You! And don’t forget to play TODAY!

 

Uncategorized

Talking about Teletherapy

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Having always worked as a hands-on, clinical Occupational therapist with children, this sudden lockdown came to me as jolt ! ‘How am I going to see my kiddos?’, ‘I miss my ongoing sessions at our therapy center’, ‘How do I continue supporting and helping children and families for whom consistent therapeutic intervention is important’, ‘How do we do that while making sure we are still practicing social distancing in our effort to mitigate the virus spread’

So many questions….I was looking for answers, hopes and more creative yet meaningful ways to keep the work going! Thankfully the world is a smaller and significantly more accessible place due to the World Wide Web.

Having researched through lots of credible and research based online platforms I came across something called as ‘TELETHERAPY’. At first I was like ‘Huh!! This sounds fancy. But what is it? Does it really help? Will it bring a value addition to my kids and parents as they navigate through these days?

As I dived deeper into understanding and implementing it, I realized it is a wonderful new tool to keep the work going while still maintaining social distance until we are able to get back to our routines soon.

Here is my attempt to explain this to our parents. I have tried to provide comprehensive, true, research based information and understanding of Teletherapy and ways in which we can utilize it as an effective and efficient tool for our kids.

 

What is Teletherapy?

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Teletherapy – commonly known as “telehealth” in the healthcare arena – is the online delivery of speech, occupational, and mental health therapy services via live, face-to-face video conferencing. Actually, most of us are already doing that in some form or the other without even knowing it. For example, if you are sending your child’s videos to your therapist and getting feedback on those, or if you use a secure texting platform to exchange messages about your home program, you’re already using telehealth. During therapy sessions, the student and therapist can see, hear, and interact with one another in real time, using webcams, headsets, and a live, synchronous online learning environment. If you’ve ever used Skype on your computer or FaceTime on your iPhone, you’ve used a similar type of technology.

 

How do we go about technical challenges? Will it compromise the therapy process?

It is commonly understood that there are technical problems that can arise due to the online venue that are nonexistent when the therapy session is in person. For example, it can be difficult for the child to connect and communicate with a therapist who is not in the same room together interacting face-to-face.

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These potential technical pitfalls can be avoided through:

1. A computer with a high-resolution web-cam or an external web-cam,

2. Sound input and output (this could be a built-in microphone and speakers or an external microphone and headphones).

While this may seem to be difficult at first, this will ensure that your teletherapy session will not feel all that different from an in-person, face-to-face encounter.

3. Also, we typically work with the parents and do a trial with them so we all get the hang of using these online platforms before they begin their first session.

4. We will also guide you about creating a type of environment that is most conducive to success in teletherapy. Children should be set up at a desktop computer with a properly working webcam and in-computer microphone along with noise-cancelling headphones. An appropriate height desk and chair will allow a child to sit up straight with their hips, knees, and feet at a 90° angle. 

 

Will online sessions decrease my child’s engagement compared to hands-on personal sessions like we always do?

Parents may be concerned that during online sessions it will be difficult to maintain the child’s focus and engagement. However, various ways in which we can ensure better participation and engagement is by:

  1. Preparing the child with a visual schedule
  2. Decluttering distractions around where you and your child are sitting for the video conference
  3. The therapist will plan the session to create a mix of movement based and table-top tasks to ensure better sensory regulation, incorporating really cool online games (which actually your child may find novel, more interesting and a welcome difference from his regular sessions)
  4. Giving lots of positive feedback verbally and visually through the use of emoticons.
  5. Also, online therapy offers a plethora of games, exercises, and more to engage the child.

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How do I explain and prepare my child for this?

How can you help children understand teletherapy? When kids are used to seeing their occupational therapist in the classroom setting, clinic, or therapy, room, the transition to teletherapy can be a strange thing at first.

Here are tips to help kids understand virtual occupational therapy sessions:

  1. While the core aspects of therapy remain the same when sessions are completed virtually, you can explain to them that the computer will be their “learning portal” to help them participate in all the fun and educational activities that they would typically do in therapy.
  2. You may tell your child, ‘Since we can’t go to Miss Rachana (Or your therapist’s name), she is going to meet us and play with us on our computer’.
  3. The computer is our “creativity helper” through which they can play games, talk with their therapist, learn new things, and strengthen their bodies and minds! For younger kids, it may help for you to mention that there will be games with animals, superheroes, their favourite cartoon characters, sports, and more.
  4. Children may even view teletherapy as more exciting than traditional therapy, since they get to play games on the computer (something that is often viewed as a reward or leisure activity after their homework is done).

 

What areas would you work upon in teletherapy sessions? Can we continue the goals that we were working on already at the center?

Since the core aspects of therapy remain the same when sessions are completed virtually , some of the areas that we can continue to work upon through teletherapy are:

  • Fine motor skills (such as using buttons, manipulating scissors, or holding a pencil)
  • Writing, reading, or learning
  • Gross motor skills (such as using muscles in the neck, arms, hands, and torso)
  • Assisting with self-care, such as dressing, eating, and grooming
  • Managing their emotions or behaviours
  • Playing or engaging in leisure activities
  • Organizing, planning, and completing tasks
  • Interacting or communicating with other children, adults, teachers, etc.

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The sessions will be conducted by the therapist already working with your child at the center. This would ensure comfort and familiarity for you and your child. Additionally this would mean that the therapist is best suited to make an optimal accurate goal based plan that you were already working with your child on prior to the lockdown.

The activities would be conducted in ways where the therapist will model the activity to the child, do it with the child, guide, help and empower you to actively be a part of scaffolding your child in person and hands on and you conduct it with them at home while the conferencing is on.

 

How much will this cost me?

Telepractice sessions are much more cost effective as compared to regular in person sessions.

Will online sessions compromise our privacy and confidentiality?

We take the utmost care in utilizing virtual platforms which will completely ensure that equipment and connections are secure and taking steps to make certain that unauthorized third parties do not accidentally enter the room during a videoconferencing session. We will send a prior consent-to-treat process and content. Of course, at any point you can ask questions to ensure ongoing affirmative consent

So, to sum it up…Just like everything else teletherapy also has its pros and cons.

The pros being: Improves access during time when we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do our OT sessions, Convenient: saves travel time and other logistics, kid-Friendly, computer-based activities are motivating for children, effective and convenient. Research has shown that the quality of teletherapy is on par with onsite therapy, simple, easy-to-implement technology is user-friendly for students and schools, while also being cost-effective and flexible.

The cons being; Lacking the in-person connect of OT, limitations in the use of certain kinds of diagnostic conditions, not everyone may have access to high quality internet and other technology needed for this.

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I hope this helps you feel more comfortable and familiar with how teletherapy works. Of course, our hands-on Occupational Therapy is what we will always continue to do and love doing. However, in unprecedented surreal circumstances like these we are all trying to be problem solvers and make the best of the situation at hand. We are confident that together we will get through this together!

Stay Safe and Stay Healthy!

 

Hiral Sangoi.

Play

Building Resilience in Children

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All children are capable of extraordinary things. There is no happiness gene, no success gene, and no ‘doer of extraordinary things’ gene. The potential for happiness lies in all of them, and will mean different things to different kids. We can’t change that they will face challenges along the way. What we can do is give them the skills so these challenges are never able to break them. We can build their resilience. 

Resilience is being able to bounce back from stress, challenge, tragedy, trauma or adversity. When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious, more adaptable, and more able to extend their reach into the world. 

The great news is that resilience is something that can be nurtured in all children.

 

How does resilience affect behaviour?

Children will have different levels of resilience and different ways of responding to and recovering from stressful times. They will also have different ways of showing when the demands that are being put upon them outweigh their capacity to cope. They might become emotional, they might withdraw, or they might become defiant or angry.

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Can resilience be changed?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Absolutely resilience can be changed. Resilience is not for the genetically blessed and can be strengthened at any age. One of the most exciting findings in the last decade or so is that we can change the wiring of the brain through the experiences we expose it to. The right experiences can shape individual characteristics of a child in a way that will build their resilience. 

 

How to build resilience?

  1. Resilience needs relationships.

By having a loving relationship with a caring adult, children have the opportunity to develop vital coping skills. The presence of a responsive adult can also help to reverse the  physiological changes that are activated by stress.  Anyone in the life of a child can make a difference – family, teachers, coaches – anyone.

   2. Increase their exposure to people who care about them.

cheering the child

Social support is associated with higher positive emotions, a sense of personal control and predictability, self-esteem, motivation, optimism, and resilience. Kids won’t always notice the people who are in their corner cheering them on, so when you can, let them know about the people in their fan club. Anything you can do to build their connection with the people who love them will strengthen them.

‘I told Grandma how brave you were. She’s so proud of you.’

3. Let them know that it’s okay to ask for help.

Children will often have the idea that being brave is about dealing with things by themselves. Let them know that being brave and strong means knowing when to ask for help. If there is anything they can do themselves, guide them towards that but resist carrying them there. 

4. Build their executive functions.

Strengthening their executive functioning will help them manage their own behaviour and feelings, and increase their capacity to develop coping strategies. Some powerful ways to build their executive functioning are:

  • establishing routines;  
  • modelling healthy social behaviour; 
  • creating and maintaining supportive reliable relationships around them;  
  • providing opportunities for their own social connections;  
  • creative play;  
  • board games: Good for impulse control (taking turns), planning, working memory, and mental flexibility (the ability to shift thoughts to an alternative, better pattern of thought if the situation requires); 
  • games that involve memory;  
  • exercise;  
  • giving them opportunities to think and act independently (if they disagree with you and tell you why you’re wrong, there’s a plus side – their executive functioning is flourishing!);
  • providing opportunities for them to make their own decisions.

 

    5. Encourage regular mindfulness practice.

mindfulness

Mindfulness creates structural and functional changes in the brain that support a healthy response to stress. It strengthens the calming, rational prefrontal cortex and reduces activity in the instinctive, impulsive amygdala. It also strengthens the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. When this connection is strong, the calming prefrontal cortex will have more of a hand in decisions and behaviour.

   6. Exercise.

Exercise strengthens and reorganises the brain to make it more resilient to stress. Anything that gets kids moving and you can make it fun, works.

   7. Nurture optimism.

Optimism has been found to be one of the key characteristics of resilient people. The brain can be rewired to be more optimistic through the experiences it is exposed to. If you have a small human who tends to look at the glass as being half empty, show them a different view. This doesn’t mean not validating how they feel. Acknowledge their view of the world, and introduce them to a different one. 

‘It’s disappointing when it rains on a sports day isn’t it? Let’s make the most of this. What’s something we can do on a rainy day that we probably wouldn’t do if it was sunny?’ The idea is to focus on what is left, rather than what has been lost. 

 

   8. Model resilience. 

Imitation is such a powerful way to learn. The small humans in your life will want to be just like you, and they’ll be watching everything. So let them see how you deal with disappointment. Bringing them into your emotional world at appropriate times will help them to see that sadness, stuckness, disappointment are all very normal human experiences. When experiences are normalised, there will be a safety and security that will open the way for them to explore what those experiences mean for them, and experiment with ways to respond.

‘I’m disappointed that I didn’t get the job, but that’s because it was important to me. It’s nice to have things that are important to you, even if they don’t end the way you want them to. I did my very best in the interview and I know I’ll be okay. That one wasn’t the job for me, but I know there is going to be one that is perfect. I just have to keep trying and be patient.

mom reading to daughter

Reading stories that demonstrate resilience is another way to help them experience and normalize different emotions, through a character in the book.

   9. Don’t rush to their rescue.

Exposure to challenges that they can manage during childhood will help to ensure that they are more able to deal with stress during adulthood. There is evidence that these early experiences cause positive changes in the prefrontal cortex (the ‘calm down, you’ve got this’ part of the brain), that will protect against the negative effects of future stress. It is in the precious space between falling and standing back up again that they learn how to find their feet.

   10. Build their problem-solving toolbox.

Self-talk is such an important part of problem-solving. Your words are powerful because they are the foundation on which they build their own self-talk. Rather than solving their problems for them, start to give them the language to solve their own. Some ideas:

  • What would [someone who they see as capable] do?
  • What has worked before?
  • Say as many ideas as you can in two minutes, even the silly ones? Lay them on me. Go.
  • How can we break this big problem into little pieces?

So say, for example, the problem is, ‘What if I miss you or get scared when I’m at Grandmas?’ Validate them first, then start giving them the problem-solving language without handing them the solution.

‘You might miss me. I’ll miss you too. It’s really normal to miss people you love, even if you’re with people you love being with.

What do you think might help if that happens?’ or, ‘What would [Superman/ Dad/ big sister, who is their idol] do?’ or ‘What sort of things do you do here at home that help you to feel cozy or safe?’ I know you always have great ideas.’

   problem solve

Let them know they are loved unconditionally. (But you already knew that.)

This will give them a solid foundation to come back to when the world starts to feel wobbly. Eventually, they will learn that they can give that solid foundation to themselves. A big part of resilience is building their belief in themselves. It’s the best thing they’ll ever believe in.

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PARENTING FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

Being the parent of a child with special needs is challenging. In fact, it can bring unexpected stresses with spouses, siblings and even within your own belief in your parenting abilities.

 

“My child is struggling and I’m exhausted.”

“My spouse is disconnected from the family.”

“I feel like I’m not doing enough, but I don’t know what else to try.”

 

No Perfect Mother

 

You try your best to be kind, patient and loving but there are days when you’re so tired of the struggles that you just want to quit.

And these days can be full of:

  • Resentment that every day is a challenge.
  • Uncertainty of what’s best for your child.
  • Frustration with inconsistent information from specialists.
  • Sadness for dreams unfulfilled (and guilt for feeling sadness about it).
  • Irritation towards “helpful” advice from those who have no idea about your daily stresses.
  • Jealousy towards parents who have “typical” families.
  • GUILT for feeling any or all of the above!

You are not alone in this!

So what can parents do?

 

Find a support system

When you find others who also are walking this path you discover coping strategies, new resources, and support from other parents who “get it.”

Just knowing you’re not the only one makes things a little easier emotionally.


 Dad

 

Ask for help

Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It’s only when you open up, you discover:

1) I wasn’t “parenting wrong” – I just needed more information and additional strategies and 

2) there is help out there!

Talk to your…

  • Paediatrician or therapist regarding referrals to specialists.
  • child’s teacher for additional suggestions to help your child academically.
  • counselor, or other special needs parents for personal support.
  • spouse or co-parenting partner to brainstorm family solutions.
  • friends and family for possible “mom’s time out” so you can recharge your battery.

 

Take care of yourself

This is where parents struggle the most! “But I just don’t have time for me!” If you want to be the best version of the parent you can be, you need to allow yourself time to relax and recharge your battery.

Think of your energy as a pitcher of water,: if you constantly pour out your energy (the water) but never refill the pitcher, you have nothing to contribute to, at the end of the day.

   couple_stretching                   

Here are a few quick tricks that are helpful:

  1. Give yourself permission to take 5-10 minutes each day strictly for yourself. (I know, it’s hard, but your kids need you to do this)
  2. Do something that relaxes you (a cup of coffee, read a few pages from an inspirational or funny book, or just sit and do nothing).
  3. Share Childcare with your parenting partner or enroll your kids for extracurricular activities or social events.
  4. Exercise…even if it’s only 10 minutes of cardio or stretching.

 

Take care of the relationship

For those of you co-parenting, make sure to take care of your partnership. Parents who are exhausted tend to forget to work on their relationship, get irritated and fail to communicate well.

Ways to enhance your partnership include:

  • a willingness to kindly communicate your need for help. This helps prevent the build-up of resentment between partners.
  • give the main caregiver a break.
  • take time to be together (even if it’s just 15 mins) without the kids to talk about things other than the kids.
  • be compassionate and supportive listeners for each other.
  • acknowledge your partner’s strengths.

To the last point… if your spouse is great at handling your child’s homework struggles, step back and allow him to help. If one of you is patient in the morning and the other is more patient at night, use that knowledge to plan chores and childcare time.

 

Take care to nurture sibling relationships

It is so easy for much of your energy and effort to go to the child with special needs, especially with the extra doctor appointments, support specialists and academic issues that can be a part of your child’s therapy. Siblings of a special needs child might feel “slighted” at times. If this happens, be assured you’re not a bad parent, just a human, and try some of the tips below!

  • Make sure each child gets some undivided attention.
    Even simple things like reading at bedtime or talks while driving to school count! It’s the quality, not the quantity that will make a difference.
  • Engage in your child’s activities.
    Ask them about a school project, volunteer to organize a play date or sleepover together, ask questions about the movie they saw with a friend. Your attention to the details in their day will matter.

       outdoor games

  • Include your children in the care of their sibling, as appropriate.
    There will be days when they will want to help, others when they don’t and that is fine. Caring for family members instills compassion in even the youngest children.
  • Give your children information as they want it.
    Some children accept their sibling “just how she is” and others want to know “why she uses a hearing aid.” Children are curious and the more facts they have the better.
  • Empower your family by accepting what is your “normal.”
    Every family does things a little differently, yours included. A child who is in a wheelchair is still your child, he just has a different way of getting around, which is normal for your family.

This lesson teaches other children acceptance, compassion and respect for others who also may do things differently.

  • Problem solve as a team!
    There are times when challenges arise, empower your children by having them brainstorm solutions with you. It’s amazing what kids come up with, usually things we hadn’t considered.
  • All children should “overhear” you bragging about their accomplishments. 
    It’s so easy to get fixated on the cycle of struggles, but focusing on even the smallest successes or acts of kindness helps a family build each other up.

 

                        art

 

So remember, don’t let your struggles bog you down.. Seek the right source of help. In the process, look out for yourself so that you can lookout for your child. 

This will allow you to be the best parent your child could ask for.

 

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How to Build the Foundation for Self Advocacy

 

Self-Advocacy image

 

At a Glance

  • Younger kids can be taught how to speak up for themselves.
  • Giving responsibility to young children helps build the foundation for self-advocacy.
  • Letting your child do certain things on their own is a good place to start.

 

When kids have confidence, it makes it easier for them to speak up when they need help. It also helps them explain their challenges to others. But younger kids who are just starting school don’t always have that level of self-awareness or the words to express what they’re struggling with.

You can help your young child start building the foundation of self-advocacy. And the earlier you do, the sooner they’ll be able to speak up on behalf of themselves. Here are some things you can do.

 

Give them the language for asking.

Your child may literally not know what to say when he/she wants or needs something. But you can help them build that vocabulary by teaching how to ask.

Example- Let’s say she’s on a playdate and there’s a particular building block she needs, to complete her building. But her friend has been keeping it for herself.

Instead of just saying, “Can I have that?” your child can learn to express why she’s asking. “Can I please use that block? I need it for my building.”

By adding that extra layer, you are teaching her to communicate her needs in a situation, not just her desires.

 

raise hands

 

Let them do things on their own.

You may be tempted to jump in and help your child any time he/she appears to be struggling with something. But it’s important to step back sometimes so that your child can build his/her skills.

Example- Tell your child, you know he can do it himself, but if he runs into trouble with something, he can let you know what he’s struggling with and ask if you’ll help.

 

Give them responsibilities.

Having structures in place can help build self-advocacy. When kids are given tasks that they’re able to complete, it builds their self-esteem.

For example, giving a cubby space at home to your child teaches her where to put her things when she walks in the door. You can also ask her to tidy up her room and put her toys away.

 

Role-play difficult encounters.

What would your child do if he/she was being teased at recess? Kids with learning and attention challenges are often targets for bullying.

Without having strategies to stick up for themself, your child may respond by bursting into tears. Or they may hold it in and not tell anybody that they are being picked on.

Role-playing difficult situations with your child can give them strategies that are empowering. It gives them language that they can use on the spot. It can also show

them that speaking up when bad things are happening is another way to get help when they need it.

Self-Advocacy superhero

 

Give them real-world opportunities to practice.

It’s one thing to practice at home with family members. It’s another thing to find your voice out in public. Encourage your child to ask for what they need outside of the house.

For instance, have him order his own food at restaurants, giving him the words to use: “May I please have a hamburger with fries?” Tell him it’s OK to make requests, too: “Can I get my hamburger without any lettuce or tomato, please?”

 

Learning to self-advocate takes time, especially at a very young age. Be prepared to help your child with the language of asking for what they need, for as long as it takes—until they start doing it on their own. From there, the self-advocacy skills can only grow.

 

Why is Self-Advocacy important for children:  

  • Adolescence is the usual period during which children without disabilities begin to question authority and generally move toward becoming autonomous, self-determined individuals.
  • Rather than breeding dependency, it is important that children with disabilities also be given opportunities to establish personal goals, make choices and become involved with the adults who have usually been making decisions for them.
  • In postsecondary school, it is considered the student’s responsibility to advocate for himself/herself. Therefore, self-advocacy training in previous grades is of paramount importance.
  • Self-advocacy skills are needed before commencing post-secondary education, which is usually a much larger, depersonalized setting.
  • Learning self-advocacy skills also develops self-determination skills, which could foster increased personal satisfaction and happiness.
  • All kids, whether or not they have a disability, must learn through opportunities and experiences to explore, take risks, learn from consequences, become self-motivated, develop positive self-esteem and gradually gain control over their lives. All children would benefit from being directly taught these skills at any age level.

 

Outcomes after implementing Strategies

  • Children are able to appropriately describe their abilities and needs, and the   accommodations and assistance that support their learning.
  • Children are actively involved in setting realistic goals for their learning.
  • As adults, they are successful in their workplace.

 

Key Takeaways

  • Scripting language for kids helps them build self-advocacy.
  • Giving tasks to younger children boosts their confidence.
  • Role-playing with your child can help prepare her for tough situations.
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MY ROLLER-COASTER EMOTIONS

Roller coaster

 

Humans are gifted with the ability to feel and express their emotions freely!

We have the flexibility to feel an array of emotions, be it fear, anger, frustration, disappointment, happiness and a thousand more. But what is important is how and when we express them!

You and I know that it is inappropriate to burst out our words of anger in a public place or suppress our emotions such that we don’t burst out laughing when in a lecture theatre. This is because we can regulate our emotions.

Although, this comes naturally to us, it is not so easy for most of our children. They have a hard time expressing their emotions appropriately, for a right situation and then learning how to move on.

There are a number of reasons why children vary in the way they express and manage their emotions. Children learn different ways of expressing emotions based on what they see from their environment, family and culture. Learning to regulate emotions is more difficult for some children than for others. Some children feel emotions intensely/easily and are more sensitive than others. .

Boy deep pressure          Leaves on me

 

Teaching a child to manage emotions?

Helping children learn to accept feelings and to understand the links between feelings and behavior, supports their emotional development. The following example shows how Josh’s mother listens carefully and asks questions that help to identify the feelings that led him to be upset.

Josh became upset when he fell off the skateboard and the other boys laughed at him. He got angry with them and told his mother they were mean. Here Josh’s mother supports his emotional development by helping him to explore his feelings.

 

Josh: “Those boys are really mean.”
Mum: “It sounds like you’re really angry with them. What happened?”
Josh: “They laughed at me.”
Mum: “Oh, I see. Do you know what they were laughing about?”
Josh: “I fell off the skateboard. It wouldn’t turn the way it was supposed to.”
Mum: “It sounds like it was really hard.”
Josh: “Yes.”
Mum: “And you were trying really hard too.”
Josh: (Nods).

 

Acknowledging and exploring his feelings helps Josh feel understood. This makes it easier for him, with his mother’s help, to think carefully about what he can do to improve the situation and feel better. Josh’s mother could support this next step by asking him what he thinks would make things better for him. She might also suggest some options for him to consider. Approaching Josh’s difficulty this way shows him that difficult emotions are linked to problems that can be thought through and resolved.

Doggie my friend

Key points for supporting children’s emotional development:

Children’s abilities for recognizing, understanding and managing their emotions are influenced by the ways the adults who care for them acknowledge and respond to their feelings.

Helpful ways to adopt:

  • Listen and validate the child’s emotional experience 

Listen to what children say and acknowledge their feelings. This helps children to identify emotions and understand how they work. Being supported in this way helps children work out how to manage their emotions.

  • View emotions as an opportunity for connecting and teaching 

Children’s emotional reactions provide ‘teachable moments’ for helping them understand emotions and learn effective ways to manage them.

  • Encourage problem-solving to manage emotions 

Help children develop their skills for managing emotions by helping them think of different ways they could respond.

  • Set limits in a supportive way 

Set limits on inappropriate behavior so that children understand that having feelings is okay, but acting inappropriately is not.

emotions clipart

 

Some unhelpful things to avoid:

  • Dismissing children’s emotions 

Telling children not to feel the way they do (eg, by saying, “Don’t be scared/sad/angry”), can lead children to believe that their emotions are wrong and they are bad for having them. Remember that all feelings are okay and for children to learn how to manage them they first need to be acknowledged and understood.

  • Lying to children about situations to avoid emotional reactions 

Telling children things like, “It won’t hurt a bit” (when you know it will), can actually increase the emotional reaction. It teaches them not to trust the person who has lied. Providing information to children at their level, with reassurance, helps them be prepared and work out ways to manage their emotional responses.

  • Shaming children for their emotions 

Sometimes adults tease children about their emotional responses or try to talk them out of feeling a certain way, which can lead feelings of shame. Instead of helping them to feel brave it may lead them to feel guilty for experiencing that emotion.

  • Ignoring children’s emotional responses 

Sometimes adults may think that the child will just grow out of their emotional responses and ignore them. This can communicate to children that their emotions are unimportant and limits their opportunities to learn effective ways of managing their emotions.

 

To conclude, I would like to share the belief that no emotion is right or wrong. It’s fine to be anxious sometimes and super excited at other times. Feeling varied emotions is normal, but learning to regulate emotions, is the missing piece of the huge puzzle, for most of our children, that often get missed out.

 

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A Beginner’s Guide to Finding An Occupational Therapist

 

Getting started with Occupational Therapy is an important decision you take to help support your child! Finding a therapist can be hard — a confusing, process (especially when you are new to this process) where it feels like there are no right answers.

 Like all professionals, OTs differ in training, philosophy and personality. The best choice is an OT who is a good “fit” for your child and yourself.

You can do it, and we’re here to help. We promise if you read through this guide, you will leave feeling optimistic, informed and empowered to choose the right professional for your child.

 


Figuring Out If Your Child Needs Help!

 

Your child can directly be referred to an Occupational Therapist through your school, where the teachers see signs of difficulties with your child.

Sometimes your physician, paediatrician, school, a known person working with children with special needs or maybe a friend, will express the need for therapy services for your kid. It’s ok to seek help when you or others around your child notice, that he/she needs help.

It is wise to consider a reference, as he/she would be a professional referred by trusted people.

Your next step would be to visit this therapist.

 

Your First Visit.

Devika

By now you’ve probably sunk a fair amount of time into researching therapists and also the therapist you are going to visit. It was probably not easy. Finally you’re scheduled for a consultation. You’re done, right? Not exactly!

On your first visit to the therapist, look for these certain qualities in your therapist that will help you make the right choice. See that your therapist is someone who is approachable, shares knowledge about your child with you and is open to your input. Look for someone who listens to you, believes you and fully believes in the potential of your child. A friendly therapist who understands your child well is a GO-GO!

 

Step 1: Go with your gut.

Keep in mind, that this is only the first step in choosing the right therapist for your family. Because, while you do need to have a good amount of comfort and trust with your therapist, you also need to be certain that you’ll get results. Since therapy is personal, you do need to feel your therapist is the right fit in terms of comfort, but this shouldn’t be the only criterion.

 

Step 2: Look for credibility and knowledge.

Not all therapy is the same, and many types of therapy have little to no evidence showing that they significantly help people. With that in mind, finding out the approach the therapist uses is very important. Do a little research so you are an informed consumer. Your research could include checking their website and speaking to them for understanding their qualifications and specialties, their work experience and knowledge of work. A good therapist always asks questions that lead to effective understanding of you, your child, and your family.

Child

 

Step 3: Are they easy to understand?

Another factor that is important when it comes to choosing a therapist is taking a look at how he or she speaks to you. Some therapists have brilliant ideas, but they can’t get their message across in simple language that is easily understood. After all, you won’t get far if you don’t understand what your therapist is talking about. You’ll be able to tell how easy potential therapists are to understand, by the way they write for their websites or by the way they talk if you speak to them over the phone. They should also be patient with your questions. Your approachable therapist should convey their knowledge to empower you.

 

Step 4: Consider a specialist.

A specialist would be the one who is creative and focuses on your particular struggles. They practice and/or are open to a team based approach where they are open to communication with the other professionals working with your child. They are well read/researched and updated and document changes with your child on regular basis.

Try to find someone who has a good combination of the above characteristics. If you can find a therapist who helps you with evidence-based therapy, follows a family centered approach, is a part of parent training as their primary services, you will have a much better chance at getting significant results from your therapy.

 

Life with the right therapist.

With a right therapist, it is a great start!

Be responsible of your own progress by participating in the many training programs held by your therapy center and many other recognised centers. Your therapist will always guide you through it. Follow the home program and the strategies given by your therapist with consistency. Acquire knowledge about the other therapies being conducted at the therapy center that could benefit your child, such as:

  • Individual Therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Other Specialised Therapy Sessions

The best therapist uses play and success to produce change and foster self-esteem. In a good sensory-based OT set-up, children think they are playing.

For your child with behaviors, your therapist will use the behavioral strategies and educate you and your family with them as well, which is a keystone to treatment effectiveness.

group

Make the most from their websites, articles they share on social media, newsletters and blogs. A good therapist will help you through it.

They will constantly provide all the required understanding you need of your child and their difficulties and also give you information about the other best professionals you can seek. They will guide and help you through all the practical challenges you may be facing with your child.

 

Truly, the best of help that you can get!