Articles by Year: 2018
Almost all our FOCUS families are looking forward to a little down time spent with loved ones over the winter holidays. But – You Better Watch Out! As our occupational therapists can explain, a break from the routine of regular school, sports, occupational therapy and other activities for three full weeks can be enough to throw any child off-balance. It’s especially true for children with sensory processing disorder, exacerbated when in lieu of those routines, they’re feeling the sensory overload of parties, people, music, lights, recitals/ plays/ shows, decorations and different foods.
Reducing the risk of over-stimulation and the kind of routine disruption that leads to major meltdowns, our Fort Myers pediatric occupational therapists urge parents to “ease through the season.” That doesn’t mean your child can’t participate in or won’t enjoy your family’s much-cherished traditions. In fact, this time of year can be an excellent learning opportunity for those with sensory challenges or social anxiety. It just means that to maximize the time you have, plan ahead when possible and be mindful of the ways in which your child is experiencing these same events.
Occupational Therapists Want to See a Merrier Season for All
Although it’s been said many times, many ways: Prepare, prepare, prepare. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge ordeal, but just take a few minutes to consider where you’re going, whether you’re traveling, how many are likely to be there and what sensory obstacles can you reasonably foresee. For example, if you’re planning a busy day with lots of activities or an extended trip, a weighted or compression vest might go a long way. Keep sensory tools handy. And even if you think your child may not fully understand, take a little time to explain the plan – the night before, the morning of, on the way there and just before you get there. That way they aren’t completely caught off guard.
“Alexa, where can I find the best speech therapy for child stuttering in Fort Myers?”
In this increasingly digital age, we’re engaging with artificial intelligence more than ever. It’s a trend unlikely to slow, and chief among these new communication advances are voice assistants. Apple’s Siri, unveiled in 2011, is a great example. Amazon’s Alexa is another. However, for as “intelligent” as these devices are, they have by-and-large failed to account for user difficulty by those with speech and language disorders, like stuttering, childhood apraxia of speech and more. In an era when these kinds of technologies are becoming more pervasive than ever, early intervention speech therapy for child stuttering and other speech impairments becomes even more critical.
Speech Impairments and Artificial Intelligence
Part of the problem with voice assistant technology is that it wholly fails to account for those with speech delays or difficulties. Let’s take Siri, for instance. It’s supposed to be a time-saving device that allows us to cull information hands-free (making it ideal for multi-tasking or safer for activities like driving). But in giving speech therapy for child stuttering, we’ve noticed Siri doesn’t account for the stutter. Once a person pauses or stops over a word – the voice assistant stops listening. In other words, something that was created to help save time ends up creating more stress.
Speech recognition software systems used in technology like Alexa and Siri fail are undoubtedly impressive. However, it has not been programmed to account for the extra pause or sounds that can be created when a person stutters or has some other speech impairment.
It’s been well established over decades of rising autism rates that two things are proven most effective to ensure the best outcomes: Early diagnosis and early intervention, the latter incorporating an initially intense schedule of Fort Myers ABA therapy (applied behavioral analysis), usually in combination with speech therapy, occupational therapy and sometimes physical therapy. (Most children with autism have co-occurring conditions.)
Now, a very interesting new study published in the journal Cell Reports indicates it may be possible to address some of the social behavior deficits characteristic of autism even well into adulthood with a novel approach: Electric currents. While the sensitive time period for treating social behaviors is longer than for repetitive behaviors, it’s still a pretty small window of early childhood. Citing a growing body of evidence that there is a genetic component to autism impacting certain neural pathways, the new study concludes we *might* be able to successfully tackle social behavioral inflexibility in much older children with autism or even adults with magnetic stimulation or low-dose electrical currents.
Now, we need to pause a moment and point out this isn’t a mad scientist / “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” kind-of-deal. So-called “electric shock therapies” got a terrible rap in the 19th and 20th centuries – and for good reason due to some wildly unethical tactics with tragic results. Today though, electroconvulsive therapy has proven both safe and very effective for conditions like severe depression and bipolar disorder, while neuromodular therapy (similar) has been effective in treating Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy.
Critical School Shortage of Florida Pediatric Speech-Language Therapists Makes Private Therapy More Pivotal
A critical shortage of Florida pediatric speech-language therapists in public schools is making private speech therapy for kids with special needs in Fort Myers all the more crucial. It’s important to note off-the-bat that the Lee County School District does hire some phenomenal speech-language therapists. (Some of our own, including founder Jennifer Voltz, MS/CCC-SLP, are proud to have launched or furthered careers there). The problem is the Florida pediatric speech-language therapists hired by the district are very limited in allotted time for each school and every child with an individualized education plan (IEP). For many of these kids, consistency is key to generalization of communication skills in everyday life.
Parents whose children aren’t getting adequate time investment from the district’s speech therapy (which honestly is probably most) can make sure their kids don’t fall further behind by researching and arranging speech therapy at FOCUS Fort Myers. Our self-pay rates are competitive, but many health insurers will cover Florida pediatric speech-language therapists’ services with certain diagnoses and/ or documented supporting evidence of medical necessity.
Shortages of speech therapy professionals isn’t an especially new problem, nor is it unique to Florida. In 2007, University of Central Florida researchers concluded the lack of Florida speech-language therapists in public schools was “critical.” The National Coalition on Personnel Shortages in Special Education and Related Services, an advocacy group of about 30 participating member organization, reported 47 percent of schools in 2014 didn’t have enough speech therapists for their students.
Fort Myers ABA therapists at FOCUS know that in terms of specialties in medical study, autism is relatively new. The condition wasn’t even named in medical literature until the 1930s. The child psychiatrist credited with discovering it would later say, “I didn’t discover autism. It was there before.” But because this overall lack of awareness of the condition – even in the medical community – means still today that for as many strides as we’ve made, there is still so much we don’t know – namely, its causes or why autism rates have risen so sharply since the 1960s (now at 1 in every 59 children and 1 in 38 for boys).
What our ABA therapists can say with confidence is that early intervention with a combination of pediatric therapies – specifically ABA (applied behavioral analysis), occupational therapy, speech therapy and sometimes physical therapy – has thusfar proven the most effective in helping children diagnosed with autism catch up to their peers to the greatest extent possible.
ABA Therapists: FOCUS’ Collaborative Approach has Proven Most Effective
ABA, and the methods studied and practiced by our Fort Myers ABA therapists, specialists and RBTs (registered behavior technicians), are considered the”gold standard” when it comes to autism therapy. In the simplest terms, ABA is a rewards-based system for the goal of behavior modification. Parents use it all the time without even realizing (example: You’ll get dessert if you finish your broccoli). Our Fort Myers ABA therapists can explain we use the same basic principle, but uniquely tailored to each child, meeting them at their skill level to teach appropriate behaviors and minimize inappropriate or unhealthy behaviors. (This individualized plan approach is critical because as the saying goes, “If you’ve met one person with autism… You’ve met one person with autism.” What is motivating or consequential for one child may be totally irrelevant and ineffective for another. That’s why it’s so important to have ABA therapists who aren’t just trained, but passionate about what they do, committed to never giving up in identifying those missing puzzle pieces that are going to make it “click” for each child.
The FOCUS Fort Myers occupational therapists have years of education and experience in developing goals and a plan-of-care for our pediatric patients, with the goal of promoting the highest level of functioning in everyday life. But as parents, you don’t need a degree to carry these lessons over with at-home occupational therapy exercises. There are many ways you can help strengthen your child’s skills and development with occupational therapy exercises – most with items you probably have around the house, if you need anything at all. The idea is not just to improve your child’s development of independence and life skills, but to have fun and spend quality time doing it.
Some of the strengths and skills you can target with occupational therapy exercises at home include:
- Body awareness
- Visual perception skills
- Language skills
- Muscle strength
- Direction following
- Texture exploration
- Emotional regulation
Because every child is different, it’s important to discuss your plan for at-home occupational therapy exercises with your child’s FOCUS occupational therapist, to ensure safety and the best results.
If there was ever such a thing as a real-life Santa’s workshop for children with disabilities, it’s probably a bit closer to the equator than the North Pole. At the University of North Florida, pediatric physical therapy students have been partnering with those in the school’s engineering program, pooling their talent to create specialized toys for children with special needs.
The Florida Times-Union reports the pediatric physical therapy students have been working to help develop solutions from battery-powered ride-on cars for children with mobility issues to voice-activated toys for children who need speech therapy to electronic fidget cubes for high school students with autism.
Our FOCUS Fort Myers pediatric physical therapy professionals applaud the UNF Adaptive Toy project, first started in 2014 to help meet the needs for toys for local children with disabilities. The program has already become a model for nearly a half-dozen higher education programs across the country, with professors of electrical engineering and physical therapy at the college leading the way. Since the program was first launched, it has produced 31 cars for children with special needs, and two new toys were added just this year.
The pediatric physical therapy and electrical engineering students are continually working to resolve glitches and dream up ideas for new toys, specifically for children who suffer from disabilities such as cerebral palsy, genetic disorders and spinal muscular atrophy.
As Fort Myers speech therapists at FOCUS, when a child comes to us with speech problems or speech delays, we take a “whole child” approach. That means we consider whether the neurological, physical, mental and emotional issues that may be impacting speech patterns. Occasionally parents have asked whether tonsillitis or large tonsils can impact a child’s speech. The answer is yes, it can. In some cases, large tonsils can delay speech because the tongue ends up being pushed forward, which can result in difficulty making sounds. This, however, is not common. Nonetheless, Fort Myers speech therapists know it’s a problem must be addressed for the overall health and well-being of your child. Both your child’s pediatrician and speech therapist can weigh in to help you make the best decision when tonsils are believed to be at the root of pediatric speech delays and other problems.
Explaining Tonsils, Tonsillitis, Enlarged Tonsils and Tonsillectomies
Tonsils are a pair of soft tissue masses located at the back of the throat. They’re part of the lymphatic system, which helps to fight infection, with both swelling in response to infection. However, their removal (a tonsillectomy) does not appear to reduce one’s ability to fight infection.
There are a few reasons one might consider undergoing a tonsillectomy. These include acute tonsillitis (bacteria or swelling of tonsils causing a sore throat), chronic tonsillitis, abscesses, acute mononucleosis (“mono”), strep throat, tonsil stones and enlarged (hypertrophic) tonsils. The latter is usually the condition that Fort Myers speech therapists note might most frequently impact speech patterns, in addition to reducing the size of one’s airway, making snoring or sleep apnea more likely.
Children learn speech and language through immersion. They closely watch your lips and hear the sounds while working to grasp the meaning. When there is a delay or disability that impedes that process, FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists can help – but that doesn’t mean you should stop talking.
A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience reveals that when adults regularly engage young children in conversation, those kids will have stronger connections between the two developing regions of the brain known to be critical to language development.
This discovery held true even when researchers controlled for parental education and income, meaning engaging your children from a young age can help give them a language skills boost regardless of socioeconomic status.This is significant because many prior studies dating back to the early 1990s have established a so-called “word gap” when between children of disparate socioeconomic means. Those who grow up in lower-income households tend to have heard an estimated 30 million fewer words in their lives compared to classmates of more affluent means by the time they reach the ages of 4-6. Thusfar, it’s not been proven that the link is causal, but even if it were, this new research suggests to our pediatric Fort Myers speech therapists it can be overcome when parents devote the time to chatting their kids up at every opportunity.
When you imagine the fastest-growing career, your mind probably zips to something like computer programming or industry giants like Uber and Amazon. Few pay much mind to the health care field, but the reality is it is one of the most rapidly expanding market sectors. What’s more, a sizable part of that growth involves occupational therapists.
Glassdoor just ranked the job of occupational therapist as the No. 4 most desirable of 2018 among the top 50. Additionally, U.S. News & World report ranked the job of occupational therapists as No. 9 in Best Health Care Jobs and No. 11 in the Best 100 Jobs.
Our FOCUS Fort Myers occupational therapists aren’t surprised in the least. First, a growing number of physicians, patients and families are recognizing how extremely effective and profoundly positive it can be – whether an aging stroke patient, a car accident victim or a toddler with autism. Pediatric occupational therapy especially is renowned to be a highly-rewarding field. Florida occupational therapy careers are taking off, with therapists in high demand and garnering well-deserved credit for remarkable progress with patients of all challenges.