Every parent of a toddler at some point has lamented their eating habits – with a common refrain being, “She’s soooo picky!” But how do you know whether this is “just a phase” or if you should seek feeding therapy?
Our FOCUS occupational therapists in Fort Myers can start out by saying, first and foremost, we know how quickly dinner tables can devolve into battlegrounds. Parents may beg, demand, reward, short-order-cook – and it can be physically and emotionally exhausting. The worst part of it is that without strategy, you may pour all this effort in and see no real returns.
So we start by telling parents firstly to stop and look at this – for just a moment – from your child’s perspective. Eating is actually a pretty complicated thing to a fairly new human. You have to use all of your sensory systems. You have to exercise and coordinate so many complex facial and hand muscles. Put something in front of them that’s completely unfamiliar (and maybe a little scary-looking?) and it’s easy to see why a child can get completely overwhelmed.
Here is the good news: It’s not YOUR job to MAKE your child eat. Nope, it’s really not. What we advise to parents of children who take feeding therapy is to think of their role as providing their child with both the opportunity and the skills they need to CHOOSE to eat new foods.
Sippy cups are small, portable and help keep messes to a minimum – BUT, there’s a catch. They can wreak havoc on your child’s teeth and lead to oral motor delays that can snowball into speech and language impairments.
As parents and caregivers, our FOCUS therapists totally get the convenience factor of sippy cups. And it is, but that’s the thing: It was invented more for parents than kids. But in the long-run, it’s not worth it. As Fort Myers speech pathologists, we generally advise stepping away from the sippy cup (or never offering one in the first place).
Your child’s oral motor development is critical to so many functions, and sippy cups may directly impact that.
Most families of school-age children are familiar with the “summer slide,” that break in routine that slows the momentum of progress in the long, lazy days of summer. Fort Myers behavior therapists at FOCUS know “the slide” can be especially keen for kids on the autism spectrum because they are so reliant on routine. Routine is often imperative for people with autism not just to thrive, but in some cases to function at all without a massive meltdown.
The two primary areas of struggle for many children with autism:
- Social interactions
- Strong reliance on stability, sameness and repetition.
Many kids get that from the strict schedules they follow at school. Summer poses some challenges on this front, and some days it can feel like episodes come on suddenly and the whole day just unravels. Our FOCUS behavior therapists and occupational therapists will work to help you and your child keep your cool through these episodes – and hopefully even prevent them.
Smartphones in the hands of little ones is generally frowned upon, and usually for good reason. Researchers have linked excess screen time to speech delays, stunted socialization and repetitive motion “tech ache.” BUT – it’s not all bad.
In speech therapy, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy and sometimes even physical therapy, we’ve found at FOCUS Fort Myers that smartphones can have some pretty amazing applications – and we’re discovering new uses all the time! (We LOVE when parents share their own ideas too!)
There is no getting around the fact these small, glowing boxes are an integral part of our daily lives, with approximately 92 million smartphones in the U.S. – a figure that’s still growing. Limits on screen time are important – necessary even (and, let’s be honest, not just for kids). But our FOCUS occupational, behavioral and speech therapists are embracing the many ways this technology has become a key tool in achieving occupational, behavior and speech therapy goals.
Sensory processing disorder is when the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to information obtained via the senses. Although it’s not formally recognized as a distinct medical diagnosis, our occupational therapists in Fort Myers know it’s very real and something with which many children struggle, impacting the ability to successfully engage in everything from toothbrushing routines to consuming a healthy diet to paying attention to a math lesson or playing a game with peers.
While it’s most usually co-occuring with conditions like autism or ADHD, sensory processing disorder can present in children without any disability at all (research suggests 10 to 55 percent of children without a diagnosed disability have difficulty in this area).
It can manifest in the form of being overly-sensitive to certain environmental factors. For example, someone with sensory processing disorder may be so keenly aware of sounds or light touches, it may to them seem physically painful. A child with sensory processing disorder might also seem uncoordinated, have difficulty engaging in play or conversation or have difficulty telling where there limbs are in space. Certain textures, tastes, smells, sounds, brightness and movement can become overwhelming, and sometimes make an otherwise ordinary task seem unbearable.
A recent analysis published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy examined the state of research on sensory integration for children, finding that in recent years, this area of academic study has shifted from sensory processing and integration problems to emphasizing the occupational performance challenges that result from these problems. More recent research looks at overcoming challenges in detecting, interpreting and adaptively responding to sensory stimuli affecting a child’s ability to participate occupations that are both meaningful and valuable. “Participation” here could mean anything from entering a highly complex professional field of study to engaging in key “occupations” of daily living, such as getting enough rest and sleep, playing, adapting to a school environment and participating in basic social interactions.
Parents of 5-to-6-year-olds in Southwest Florida are gearing up to get their children ready for a big next step: Kindergarten. While this is an undoubtedly exciting time for everyone, when you have concerns about a child’s speech delay or lagging language development, it’s natural to have some anxiety too.
Beyond simply being a time of transition, kindergarten marks the start of your child’s formal education. It’s also when we see our child’s communication milestones examined under a microscope by educators. Negative feedback might be difficult to hear, but it’s usually worth carefully considering.
Fort Myers pediatric speech therapists at FOCUS preach the importance of early intervention for speech delays and missed language milestones. No matter the underlying issue, it’s rarely resolved by ignoring it. What’s more, it can snowball to affect other areas of development, such as socialization and academic progress.
Learning how to use the toilet is a pivotal skill for every child, and one’s “readiness” can widely vary. ABA therapy can help children with autism and other delays master the potty with positive reinforcement.
Toilet training is all too often a frustrating and sometimes tearful experience for many families and children. Parents understand it’s a critical milestone that allows their child to participate in so many activities with reduced risk of negative consequences like as social stigma, poor personal hygiene and discomfort.
Recognize that many typically-developing children struggle with this. A child with autism spectrum disorder is going to have even more difficulties due to challenges with language and communication, sensory processing, motor planning, social skills/ social thinking and behavioral control. It will take more time – and that’s Ok. But with a solid, consistent plan, it will happen.
A new study on the way songbirds learn to sing has piqued researchers’ interest for what it might teach us about how humans learn to talk – and more specifically, about how to tackle certain speech disorders.
Children who struggle with communication development may be diagnosed with language and speech disorders if they are unable to vocalize words or understand what is being said to them. Some common childhood speech disorders include:
- Articulation disorder. This is when children have trouble making certain sounds correctly.
- Apraxia of speech. This is when the motor programming system for speech production is affected, making speech difficult (specifically, sequencing and forming sounds).
- Fragile X syndrome. This is a genetic disorder most common among boys with intellectual disabilities or autism or Down syndrome. It can be mild or severe, and is associated with repetition of words or phrases, difficulties with speech pragmatics and cluttered speech.
- Stuttering. This is when there are involuntary repetitions, interruptions or hesitation of speech.
This new research by biologists at UCLA, published in the journal eLife, may shed some insight into what causes certain speech disorders and how to resolve them. It involved examining how songbirds learn to sing (their way of communicating with one another), and how certain genetic factors might hinder that process.
A child who struggles to explore their environment on the same level of their peers due to a gross motor delay may struggle on other fronts too, including cognitive development and behavioral challenges.
Recently, the journal Physical Therapy published a study determining that gross motor delays were associated with problem daytime behaviors and quality of life issues for children with autism spectrum disorder. Researchers examined cross-sectional, retrospective data of more than 3,200 children between the ages of 2 and 6 diagnosed with ASD. They found that children who struggled more with gross motor skills had more daytime problem behaviors. So when the goal is targeting problem behaviors for children with ASD, researchers concluded it’s important not to overlook the possible need for physical therapy.
Children with a wide range of conditions and diagnoses may have gross motor delays, which are those skills involving the large muscles of the arms, legs and torso. Gross motor skill delays might become apparent when a child is learning to crawl, sit, walk, run, throw a ball or balance. All kids reach developmental milestones at varying increments, but those who are far behind can benefit from physical therapy to help them catch up.
Gross motor skill delays can be linked to any number of conditions – or may exist independently of anything else. Untreated, these delays can impact your child’s ability to reach their full potential.
Power to the puppets!
For children with a range of difficulties and disabilities, our speech and occupational therapists in Fort Myers have seen striking benefits in working with puppets during our sessions with kids. Puppets, first and foremost, are fun (who doesn’t love Sesame Street?). But they can also help us engage children in ways they might otherwise struggle, namely in peer-to-peer and child-to-adult interactions. They can also help kids better understand certain functional roles and responsibilities in everyday life.
Puppets can be an entertaining yet powerful visual to help us illustrate action-word vocabulary or spatial concepts. As speech and occupational therapists, we can use puppets to help teach the rules of conversation, general social interaction and causal connections. A puppet might “forget” they shouldn’t interrupt or talk so loudly or push to the front of the line. Puppets can be frustrated, sad or angry about something, and it allows the child to explore those complicated feelings and situations without being overwhelmed – because puppets are inherently silly too. They also tend to be more effective than a two-dimensional picture because they rely on visual, audible and tactile senses.