FOCUS Therapy holiday pajama drive

FOCUS Therapy Hosting Holiday PJ Drive for SWFL Kids in Foster Care

The holidays can be an especially lonely time for the estimated 19,000 kids in Florida’s foster care system. Many of these children are without not only their parents, but also siblings, extended family, and most material possessions. FOCUS Therapy is hoping we can come together to help offer them a small measure of comfort this season: Cozy, holiday-themed pajamas.

Lots of other wonderful organizations locally do holiday gift drives, so we thought we’d do something a little different: Give these kids something comfy to snuggle up in.FOCUS Therapy foster care pj drive

We’re asking for donations of brand new, soft, holiday-themed pajama sets. Donations are welcomed for boys and girls of all ages & sizes. Statistically, the average age of a child in foster care is 8, and there are slightly more boys than girls.

We’ll be collecting these PJs at our two FOCUS Therapy locations, at Royal Gulf Circle and Interstate Commerce Drive.

Foster care is the temporary placement of children and youth with families outside their own home due to abuse, neglect, or other circumstances. The goal is to provide a stable, nurturing environment in a time of crisis until they can be reunited with their parents or extended family members. Many children in foster care arrive to their temporary placements with little more than the clothes they’re wearing.

To learn more about the Florida foster care system or becoming a foster parent, visit the Florida Department of Children & Families at https://www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/foster-care/.

If you have questions about donations or FOCUS Therapy in general, call our office at (239) 313-5049.

pediatric occupational therapy Fort Myers

Understanding Pediatric Occupational Therapy

Pediatric occupational therapy isn’t widely understood by most folks. After all, kids don’t have an “occupation” do they? (In fact, they do – it’s play & learning!)

Occupational therapy (or OT for short) is a broad discipline that can cover a lot of ground for kids with a wide range of delays, disabilities, injuries, and other challenges. Pediatric OTs are professionals who work specifically with infants, toddlers, and school-age kids to help them develop critical life skills that will boost their overall development. At FOCUS Therapy, our occupational therapists want these kids not just to function,  but to thrive!

Signs your child might benefit from an assessment by a pediatric occupational therapy professional:

  • Trouble with fine motor skills, such as using scissors, proper pencil grasp, manipulating small objects.
  • Difficulty with self-care tasks, like dressing themselves, buttoning & zipping, focusing/following through on instructions.
  • Sensory regulation. You might notice they’re extremely picky eaters, bothered by loud noises, and struggle with transitions between activities and/or environments.

Learn more about occupational therapy for kids here.

FOCUS Therapy

FOCUS Therapy Uses a Play-Based Therapy Approach

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.

ABA therapy Fort Myers kids

The Importance of Pairing in ABA Therapy

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.

Ft. Myers OT child eye contact

Fort Myers OT Insight: “How Can I Help My Child With Eye Contact?”

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.

language delay Fort Myers

Four Things to Know About Developmental Language Delay in Kids

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:

speech therapist Fort Myers

Fort Myers Speech Therapist Tips on Reducing Kids’ Screen Time

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.
  • Depression.
  • 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.
  • Texting.
  • Social media.
  • Video chatting.
  • Browsing the internet.
  • Watching streaming movies, videos, or television shows.
FOCUS Therapy

FOCUS POCUS Trunk-or-Treat at FOCUS Therapy is Tonight!

FOCUS Therapy families are invited to join us TONIGHT for the 2nd annual FOCUS POCUS Trunk-or-Treat event! We’ll be in the parking lot at our Colonial Boulevard location (4997 Royal Gulf Circle, Fort Myers) from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Bring your brothers, sisters, and best buddies & see all your favorite FOCUS Therapy staffers, therapists, and friends for a frightfully fun time! We’ll have games, prizes, decked-out trunks, trick-or-treat & more! Can’t wait to see all your boo-tiful faces!

Fort Myers speech therapy

Why Early Intervention Speech Therapy is SO Important if Your Child is Delayed

Speech and language skills are critical to a child’s ability to learn and interact in the world around them. When speech-language delays are identified and treated right away, there are exponential benefits for their social-emotional and academic growth. The early years are the most important for building strong speech and language skills. In this stage, your child’s brain is growing extremely fast in the first five years of life. During this window, kids are more open to learning than they’ll ever. To minimize the long-term negative impacts of a speech-language delay or disorder, our Fort Myers speech therapy team recommends early intervention – starting before age 3, if possible.

Communication is one of the most critical developmental tasks of early childhood development. It’s the way children start to form their understanding of the world. When a child has trouble communicating (being understood and/or understanding others), it can hinder their ability and confidence to express their ideas and observations of the world around them.

Kids who struggle with communication in earlier stages of development may struggle with:

  • Low frustration tolerance.
  • Emotional outbursts.
  • Excessive shyness.

They may also appear less academically advanced than their peers. That’s because reading, writing, and verbal assertions are essential to the learning process. The foundation for these skills starts very early – from birth. Your child may be too young yet for school, but if you notice they aren’t on pace with their peers in terms of speech and language skills, it’s a good idea to act promptly. The sooner you can address it, the less chance they’ll fall too far behind academically.

Also by the time kids get to school, their speech and language delays or difficulties may become markedly obvious, sometimes even to them. This realization can be a blow to their confidence, leading to lower class participation and performance. The earlier they can start working on it with a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP), the less the deficit is going to impact them later on.

A child’s inability to express themselves or understand what’s being expressed to them has an undeniable negative impact on their ability to fully enjoy and participate in daily life. The earlier we can intervene with speech therapy, the less difficulty they’ll have as they get older.

FOCUS Therapy child development

Boost Child Development While Playing in Nature

As the weather cools in Southwest Florida, it’s the perfect time to get outside and play with your child! It’s not just about enjoying the day and making some memories (though these are worth it in itself). Our speech, occupational, physical, and ABA therapists know that spending time outdoors is great way to boost child development.

Being in nature has been proven to boost kids’ academic achievement, physical health, mental health, and overall well-being. One analysis of hundreds of studies on the subject found that nature boosts learning in eight distinct ways. Those include:

  • Improves attention.
  • Relieves stress.
  • Boosts self-discipline.
  • Increases physical activity and fitness.
  • Promotes self-motivation.
  • Increases enjoyment.
  • Improves engagement.

As pediatric therapists dedicated to helping disabilities and delays make strides, we have found that nature provides a calmer, quieter, and safer setting for learning. It can also help with:

  • Motor skills
  • Communication
  • Social-emotional skills
  • Speech and language skills
  • Executive function
  • Sensory integration
  • Relaxation and emotional regulation

Spending time outdoors creates opportunity for more creative, exploratory forms of play – and play is how children learn best!