Posts Tagged ‘occupational therapy’

Changing seasons can be tough for a child with sensory issues

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

change of seasonsChange. Change. Change. For kids with special needs, change is one of the hardest aspects of their lives.

Just when your child has mastered adjusting to a new school experience, she is then faced with having to get used to the change in season. The difference in going from wearing summer clothes to fall clothes may not seem like a problem to you – but for a child with sensory issues, this can be a HUGE hurdle.

There are different kinds of sensory issues, also known as sensory processing disorder (SPD) or sensory dysfunction. Whether SPD is considered its own diagnosis, or a symptom of a larger diagnosis is still being debated by experts. However, if your child suffers from sensory issues, understanding their world and figuring out how to help them is key.

In this post, I am going to focus on the sense of touch.

For a child who hates the feel of certain kinds of fabric or tags on their clothes, changing from a summer to a fall/winter wardrobe can be traumatic. A short sleeve t-shirt does not feel the same as a long sleeve t-shirt. A collarless shirt is much more comfortable than a collared shirt that touches the neck. A blouse with ridges where the buttons meet the fabric may cause distress. The switch from shorts, where legs are not dealing with the light touch of a pant leg, to that of long pants, can be a huge feat to master.

Fabrics can have a huge effect on a child with sensitivity to touch. The “feel” of every material is different. For example, a soft flannel without buttons or zippers is usually much more acceptable than a wool blend or polyester.

And, then there are shoes…putting on closed toe shoes after a summer of toes free to wiggle inside open sandals can be like trying to cage a lion.

Some tips that may help

  • If your child can’t adapt to the sudden change from a short sleeve shirt to a long sleeve shirt, try dressing him in a short sleeve shirt, but give him a soft sweater or sweatshirt to put on it if he gets cold.
  • For girls, instead of going straight from shorts to long pants, try a middle approach first – Capri pants (below the knee), skirts, or even skirt/short combinations known as “skorts” that end just below the knee may be a good middle ground before you graduate to long pants.
  • It is tougher for boys who usually have to go straight from shorts to pants. In this case, if soft cotton sweat pants are allowed in school, this may be your safest transition pant. (“Sweats” would work well for girls, too.) Once he gets used to having his legs completely covered, he may be more able to tolerate pants that are stiff or hold their shape, such as jeans or khakis. Keep in mind that some clothing companies make flannel lined jeans and khaki pants – they are soft inside, so the stiff fabric and the seams will not irritate your child’s skin.
  • Parents should keep in mind which fabrics work or don’t work for their child. My daughter used to tell me which fabric gave her “pinches and itches.” It does not help to push a fabric on your child if her skin can’t tolerate it. Let her pick the fabrics that feel good to her – you’ll both be happier.
  • As far as shoes are concerned, for girls, “ballet flats” which are more open than sneakers or lace-up shoes can be a good transition shoe. They are not as rigid as typical shoes which will be more comfortable. For boys, short spurts of wearing shoes or sneakers may help your child slowly get used to the weight and feeling of a closed toe.

Other ideas

Your child can’t help the way she feels. The more you understand her issues, the more you can help her.

 

Halloween ideas for kids with food allergies or sensory challenges

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

pumpkinWhen you hear the word “Halloween” do you think of candy? Chocolate? Fun costumes? For children with food allergies or sensory issues, Halloween can be a frustrating evening. The thrill of getting treats can quickly become a letdown if there is nothing that your child can eat. And, the thought of wearing a costume may be the last thing your sensory special child will want to do.

Non-foods gain in popularity

Years ago, in my neighborhood, we knew of a child on our street who had food allergies. As a result, some moms decided to have an assortment of other acceptable treats to give out, so that the child with food allergies could enjoy Halloween, too.

We offered the kids non-chocolate choices, such as bags of pretzels, crackers and pops. But, surprisingly, the most popular alternatives were non-food items. Crayons, tiny notepads, little cars, plastic jewelry, glow stick necklaces, stickers, and other inexpensive but fun playthings soon became an equally desired treat for many children. I was surprised to see kids who did not have food allergies choosing stickers instead of a chocolate treat. Their eyes lit up when they saw my bucket filled with non-candy gifts. The best part is that you can get most of these items at dollar stores or discount centers, so offering alternatives won’t be a costly venture. Just be careful that you do not get tiny toys, as they can be a choking hazard to small children.

My colleague here at the March of Dimes said that the “best” house for trick or treating in her neighborhood was the one where they gave out quarters instead of candy. She and her friends loved it, as they could buy whatever treat they wanted. (But again, be careful you don’t give coins to young children as they are liable to put them in their mouths.)

When you stop to think, it makes perfect sense to widen the net of Halloween treats. Food allergies are becoming more common, so offering non-food treats is a perfect way to keep Halloween safe and yet be tons of fun. Why not think about offering non-candy treats this year and start a whole new tradition? But watch out – you may well end up being the most popular house on the block for trick or treaters!

Can’t wear a costume?

Little Red Riding HoodIf your child has sensory issues and can’t fathom the idea of putting on a costume, don’t fret. Just yesterday, a little 2 year old in my neighborhood toddled by my front steps as I was sitting there enjoying the sunshine. Her mom told me that she is sad because her daughter refuses to even try on a costume. I suggested she create a “costume” out of her regular clothes. For instance, if she has a red dress or a red hoodie, she can carry a little basket and be Little Red Riding Hood. (True confessions – I did this for my daughter when she was about that age!) Here are more ideas on how to prepare your child with sensory challenges for Halloween.  Also, you can ask your child’s Occupational Therapist for specific ideas that can make him comfortable.

Just remember, the most important thing is that your child is comfortable and safe, and has fun on Halloween.

What tricks have you tried to help your little one have fun on Halloween? Please share.

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need, select “Help for your child” on the menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date. You can also see a Table of Contents of prior posts, here.

If you have comments or questions, please send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org. We welcome your input!

Everyday tips for dealing with sensory special kids

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

hair washingMany kids with sensory issues struggle with typical everyday activities. Here are suggestions from parents of children with sensory difficulties to help you get through each day in a sensory friendly way. Some kids find bath time and hair washing to be a stressful experience. For other children, getting dressed in the morning or eating meals can be incredibly challenging. Yet others cringe at hearing typical sounds or noises. Here is what some parents recommend:

Tips for bathing

•   Let your child get in the bath when the water temperature feels right to him. He may need to stand in it a while before sitting down, in order to adjust to the feel of the water on his skin.

•    During hair shampooing, use a little pail or plastic bucket to rinse hair instead of using the shower nozzle. Water coming from a shower nozzle can be too direct and forceful.

•    When your child is old enough, allow him to rinse his own hair. Being in control of the pail and the water on his own head is less shocking to him than when someone else pours water on his head.

•    Use a facecloth to cover his face if water on the face will cause distress. Then allow your child to wipe his own face with a damp facecloth.

•    Use distractions in the bath, such as bath foam or toys, to make bath time more appealing.

•    Let your child decide if showering is preferable to bathing (when he is old enough).

Tips for dressing

•    Remove tags from clothing before wearing.

•    Let your child decide what kinds of clothes feel good on his skin. Usually brushed flannel or soft cotton or acrylic fabrics work well, but your child will know.

•    If your child hates getting dressed in the morning (due to the sensory changes), dress your child the night before in the clothes he will wear the next day. In other words, let him wear his clean clothes to bed. He may look a tad more wrinkled in the morning, but he will get his day off in a sensory calm way.

•    When you find a pair of pants, a shirt or outfit that your child loves (i.e. it “feels right”), buy two of them. This way, one can be laundered when the other one is being worn. Or, buy them in different colors if possible. Comfort – not fashion – is key here.

Tips for eating

•    As much as possible, have healthy choices available. If you know your child loves chicken with pasta, then child using forkmake a double portion. This way you can feed it to him another night in the same week, even if the rest of the family is eating something different. This allows you to eat together as a family and yet you did not cook two meals in one evening.

•    Freeze individual portions for meals on the fly, for the babysitter to serve to him, or when the family meal is sure to be too hard for your child to swallow (literally).

•    Ask your child’s pediatrician or consult with a Registered Dietician who is familiar with sensory issues to learn other ways of getting your child to eat a healthy diet. Perhaps mixing vitamin powder into your child’s food (such as spaghetti sauce) or offering protein shakes will substitute nutrients that your child may be missing.

Tips for sound sensitivity

•    Prepare your child for events that may be uncomfortable, such as large assemblies with people clapping, musical events, a meal in a big restaurant, birthday parties, etc. Soft ear plugs are often helpful to use at these events so keep them handy. Other children prefer noise-cancelling headphones.

•    Once home, provide a quiet environment so your child’s ears can rest.

Learn more

These are just a few tips for getting through a day in a sensory successful way. See my prior posts: Sensory difficulties in children to learn more about the different kinds of sensory problems that exist, and Help for sensory issues to learn about different treatments. Ask your child’s pediatrician if a treatment such as Sensory Integration Therapy (a form of Occupational Therapy) may be helpful. You can also discuss other treatments which are available.

Feel free to share what has worked for you and your child. We’d love to hear from you!

If you have questions, or would like more information, please email us at AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input.

Help for sensory issues

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

child in ball pitSensory issues can make or break your child’s day, and yours. Last week I discussed the different kinds of sensory problems that many kids experience. Today I offer some treatment options based on parent feedback.

For all of the senses, and especially for tactile sensitivities (touch), Sensory Integration (SI) therapy, a specific kind of therapy used by occupational therapists, has been a popular form of treatment. A recent study showed that a group of autistic children who received SI therapy reduced sensory difficulties in contrast to the children who did not receive SI therapy. It is thought that this form of therapy helps your child’s brain adapt to sensory information so that he can make adjustments in his daily life.

The therapy is lots of fun – it usually involves balls, swings and other game-like movements that engage the senses. It also can include wearing compression clothing to help decrease sensory seeking behavior. Although it has been around for several decades, SI therapy has not been studied until more recently. The American Occupational Therapy Association has information about sensory issues and SI therapy on their website and on this factsheet. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reminds parents there is limited data on the use of sensory based therapies and recommends that parents and pediatricians work together to determine if SI therapy would be appropriate for your child.

Treatment for eating issues

Since good nutrition is important for health and growth, you may find yourself at your wits end to get your child  to eat a balanced diet. For children with aversions to many foods, occupational therapy may help, too. There are various methods that a therapist may use to gradually get your child used to different textures or tastes.

You might also ask your pediatrician if multivitamins or other supplements are recommended, especially if your child’s taste issues has made it so that he does not eat many foods. I used to open vitamin capsules and mix them in my daughter’s food (such as spaghetti sauce) in order to ensure she got her daily dose of essential vitamins and minerals. Smoothies with vitamins or protein powder may also be a good substitute or addition to a meal.

Another option is to speak with a Registered Dietitian (RD) who specializes in children’s eating issues; they are trained to know how to create balanced diets and often have experience with children who have sensory issues. Ask your child’s doc or call your local hospital for a referral.

Other treatments

Some parents report that acupuncture as well as other kinds of treatment have helped their child decrease sensitivity.  Again, consulting with your child’s pediatrician is important before deciding on a treatment plan.

Where to get more info

  • The March of Dimes’ online community Share Your Story offers a way for parents to share their experiences and treatments for children experiencing sensory problems. Feel free to log on and join a discussion or ask a question.  Parents sharing ideas and information is key to helping your child overcome obstacles.
  • Email AskUs@marchofdimes.org and request additional resources. We can refer you to a list of books written for children (to help them understand why they feel sensitive) as well as books written for adults (to help you understand your child’s sensory issues). We’re happy to help you!

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input.

Sensory difficulties in children

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Itchy shirt. Icky foods. Hair brushing is a nightmare. Shoes won’t stay on. Sounds make him cringe.
child dislikes food

Picky child or sensory dysfunction?

Our five senses: taste, smell, hearing, touch and sight help us navigate so much of our world. But for some children (and even adults), their senses are especially heightened and can interfere with daily life in a negative way.

•    Taste and smell
Parents often complain that their child can’t tolerate the taste or smell of many foods. Feeding their child becomes a nightmare. When my daughter was little, she would only eat approximately 10 foods (if that). She did not like the taste or smell of most foods and could not stay in the same room when I was cooking broccoli or another offending food.  She preferred sweets to salty treats, and a vegetable would not pass her lips (she would rather die fighting!).  Even if cajoled or bribed (yes – I bribed her) to eat a new food, she would often gag on it because the taste, smell or texture was too awful for her. As she grew up she would relate that she wanted to eat more foods, and was not happy that she had such a limited range of foods she found acceptable to eat. But, alas, it was not something she could control.

•    Sound
child coveringn earsAnother common sensory complaint is that of a hearing sensitivity. Certain sounds or noises are painful to hear. I am not talking about a rock concert or music being cranked on the highest volume. The bothersome sounds could be the barking of a dog, the crinkling of tin foil, the din of the voices in a cafeteria, the sound of a blender, hair dryer or vacuum cleaner. Typical sounds are abnormally loud to a child with a sound sensitivity and may cause him to cover his ears (at best) or disengage socially (at worst).

•    Touch
Other children are extra sensitive to touch. For example, they hate the feeling of certain clothes against their skin. They dislike getting dressed or undressed, and may have a vast wardrobe but will only wear three outfits! Clothes that are scratchy, have tags or are not soft enough for their skin will be tossed aside.  They may resist going into a bath (or getting out of the bath) due to the uncomfortable sensory changes on their skin. Similarly, applying sunscreen becomes a feat in and of itself.

•    Sight
Lastly, some children are extra sensitive visually. For example, bright lights, flashing lights and the change from indoor light to sunlight can make them close their eyes or head in the opposite direction.

Any one of the above sensory issues can wreak havoc on your child’s life – and yours. Some children have difficulties with more than one sense, too. There is debate as to whether sensory dysfunction is a diagnosis in and of itself, or if it is a symptom of a larger diagnosis (such as ADHD, autism, or another disorder). The important thing to remember is that for whatever reason, and whatever you want to call it, these sensory issues are real challenges in your child’s life.

In many cases, these sensitivities may be reduced through occupational therapy (read this post on OT) and through other kinds of treatments. If your child is extra sensitive, speak with his pediatrician and ask if OT or another kind of treatment may be helpful.

Stay tuned for future blog posts on treatment options and helpful hints for the above sensory issues.

Note:  This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It was started in January 2013 and appears every Wednesday. While on News Moms Need and click on “Help for your child” in the Categories menu on the right side to view all of the blog posts to date (just keep scrolling down). We welcome your comments and input. If you have questions, please send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.