Articles by Month: November 2021
At FOCUS Therapy, you’ll never hear us say, “Let’s go back and do some therapy.” We say, “Let’s go play!”
Research has shown time and again that for therapists who work with kids, play-based therapy approaches are truly the most effective. Play is how children learn to understand and use language, regulate emotions, and bridge symbols and thoughts into actions.
Whether we’re working on speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy or ABA therapy, we first find out what kids are most interested in. Then we use that to teach them the skills they’re going to need in life – to talk, move, listen, and participate.
To those on the outside looking in, it may appear we’re “just playing.” But each sessions is tailored for each child, targeting their unique goals. We love what we do, and have so much fun doing it – but the main reason we use the play-based approach is because: It works!
To learn more about our services or to schedule testing or an appointment, call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
Those trained to provide ABA Therapy will understand well the concept of “pairing.” Play and pairing is the foundation of instructional control in any behavioral therapy session. Simply put, pairing is a way for ABA therapists and technicians to help build a rapport with a child by finding out what interests them and then linking whoever is working with the child to that interest/activity/object so that we can facilitate positive reinforcements in each session. It’s a means of letting the child guide us to what motivates them. When we know what that is, we use it as a positive reinforcer for expected behaviors.
So for example, a child who is new to ABA therapy will begin with a few “pairing” sessions with their ABA therapist/RBT (registered behavior technician). This is a time when we simply play together, we’ll let the child lead, allowing free access to toys, games, songs, and other stimuli. It may look like we’re just “playing,” but remember two things:
- Play is how kids learn.
- By discovering what they love to play with, we can help motivate them to learn important skills and promote helpful behaviors.
Let’s say the child falls in love with a toy train set. We then restrict play with that train set to only our sessions. The child earns play with the trains as a positive reinforcer for expected behaviors.
Speech therapy uses a similar technique in motivating kids to talk. Such toys are so-called “communication temptations,” something we’ve written about extensively in prior speech therapy blog posts.
Pairing is also important because it lets the child and therapist establish a positive, trusting relationship where they come to understand that even when learning can be challenging at times, it’s also fun and ultimately benefits them (by giving them what they want). Parent input during pairing is very important too! We will spend time interviewing caregivers about what their child is really into, and we can then build on those ideas.
From there, we’ll work on trying to teach mands/requests. (Think of a mand as short for “demand.” It’s how a person requests something. For example, we may hold a piece of that toy trainset or car until he/she asks for it or a turn with it.
A child may avoid eye contact for a number of reasons, but it’s something to really pay attention to because it’s one of the earliest indicators of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Infants who avoid eye contact with their parents – something that can be observed in a baby as young as 3 months – need to carefully monitored and assessed if the problem persists. Most babies start making eye contact no later than 6 months of age. If this is something you’ve noticed, it’s imperative to talk to your pediatrician about a potential referral for ADOS testing. If you already know your child is on the spectrum and is struggling socially, our Fort Myers OT (occupational therapy) team has some strategies that may help improve eye contact.
When Should My Baby Be Making Eye Contact?
Babies start using eye gaze to regulate behavior at around 5-6 months of age. By around 7-9 months, they use eye gaze to initiate joint attention. Joint attention is when a person purposefully coordinates his/her focus of attention with that of another person. In other words, two people are intentionally paying attention to the same thing for social reasons. If you say to your child, “Look at that big ball,” and the child looks to where you have pointed to see the ball. You’ve just engaged in joint attention. Kids on the autism spectrum struggle with joint attention, as it’s considered a social skill. Difficulty with joint attention can lead to or at least be closely correlated with developmental language delays.
As our Fort Myers OT professionals can explain, most toddlers will pair eye contact with their gestures at least half the time when they’re communicating. When kids struggle to pair their gestures or words with an eye gaze, it could be a red flag. For a child with social-communication deficits, consider that it can be really difficult to listen to someone talk, understand what they are saying and look at them at the same time.
Even as they get older, kids with autism may be apprehensive about establishing eye contact because they don’t have the ability to communicate. Some kids on the spectrum require a great deal of concentration to make and sustain eye contact. It’s important for parents not to force their kids to have eye contact, as this could result in frustration and anxiety. Instead, there are tactics we as occupational therapists can use in sessions and teach you for carryover.
Fort Myers OT Tips for Encouraging Eye Contact
With patience, positivity, and encouragement, you can help your child make and maintain eye contact. It can be difficult at first, but know that working on this skill is something that is not only going to help them in the short term, but long term when it comes to making friends and succeeding throughout life.
Some kids are “language late bloomers.” A percentage will catch up to children their same age on their own. Others, however, will continue to struggle with language learning. We call this a developmental language delay. If these difficulties persist beyond the earlier stages of development (past the age of 5), it can significantly impact their reading, writing, math, reasoning, and social skills later on.
Kids whose language troubles can’t be explained by some other cause (such as a disability, syndrome or physical impediment) and continue until they’re in school are typically diagnosed with Developmental Language Disorder.
Some indications of a language delay may include:
- Not babbling by 15 months.
- Not speaking by the age of 2.
- Inability to speak in short sentences by the age of 3.
- Trouble following directions.
- Difficulty putting words together in a sentence.
- Leaving words out of sentences.
If you suspect your child may be struggling with language comprehension or expression, you do not need to wait until they are school age to have it addressed. In fact, you should have it assessed and treated much sooner, if possible. As noted by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), early intervention (before age 5 and preferably before age 3) can have a substantial impact on the long-term implications of a speech-language disorder or developmental language disorder.
Our early intervention speech therapy team at FOCUS Therapy can help your child struggling with language skills to catch up to their same-age peers, specifically targeting skills like:
- Cognitive thinking (problem-solving, thinking, learning).
- Communication (listening, talking, understanding, gesturing).
- Physical/sensory skills (seeing, hearing, crawling, walking, climbing).
- Social-emotional skills (playing, understanding feelings, making friends).
- Adaptive/self-help skills (eating, drinking, bathing, dressing, etc.).
If you think your child may need some extra help in the area of language development, here are four things to know:
Kids’ recreational screen time more than doubled in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. This is concerning news because, as a Fort Myers speech therapist will tell you, excessive use of screen time can have numerous adverse impacts. In particular, these include:
- Unhealthy weight gain.
- Reduction in social skills.
- Delay in speech-language development (particularly for younger children).
The researchers looked at a group of more than 5,400 kids. Their average daily screen time prior to the pandemic was about 3.8 hours (still pretty high!). (The data was initially gleaned to study how cognitive development is impacted by screen time.) Then during the pandemic, kids’ use of electronic screens doubled to 7.7 hours daily. It should be noted that figure excluded school-related screen time, which many kids engaged in on-and-off, either in virtual school or some hybrid. Here in Southwest Florida, many schoolchildren are also assigned a set number of weekly minutes through a reading-math program called iReady. This too would have been excluded.
Analysts were solely looking at recreational screen time. That would include the use of electronic devices (phones, iPads, gaming systems, etc.) for things like:
- Multiple-player gaming.
- Single-player gaming.
- Social media.
- Video chatting.
- Browsing the internet.
- Watching streaming movies, videos, or television shows.