Children with Down syndrome often have speech delays and speech impairments. This is in addition to other differences in growth and development, which includes intellectual disabilities and unique facial features. Fort Myers speech therapy at FOCUS can help children with Down Syndrome make strides in their speech and communication skills, which helps boost overall learning and development.
A study published in the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology reveals children with Down Syndrome may have motor speech deficits that aren’t being properly or adequately diagnosed, which impacts the type of speech interventions their speech therapists use when treating them.
Researchers pointed out that most children who have Down Syndrome have historically been diagnosed with a condition called childhood dysarthria. It’s basically a condition where the muscles we use to talk or breath (i.e., those in our lips, face, tongue and throat) are weak, leading to a motor speech disorder that can be mild to severe. (In addition to Down syndrome children, dysarthria is also diagnosed frequently among those who have brain injury, cerebral palsy, stroke and brain tumors.) What the study authors discovered is among children with Down syndrome, symptoms of childhood apraxia of speech might be missed among those already diagnosed with dysarthria because many physicians assume these disorders can’t be co-existing. Turns out: They can!
Could improving grades and classroom behavior be as simple as changing a child’s chair? That’s what a number of physical therapy researchers have concluded in recent years.
As pediatric physical therapists, we help children improve fine and gross motor skills using “playtime” designed to strengthen or stretch certain muscle groups, manage pain or work on balance. Many of our FOCUS patients have conditions like down syndrome, cerebral palsy or spinal injuries where this type of intervention is obvious. However, we’re increasingly seeing a number who have conditions (co-occurring or singular) like autism and attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Children with all these conditions are often very bright (sometimes exceptionally so) but may struggle with how to behave appropriately in a classroom setting, especially when required (like every other student) to sit still for long periods, denied opportunities to retreat from overstimulation or outlets to meet their sensory needs. These elements are just as important for them to achieve success in the classroom as any amount of studying.
Pediatric physical therapists have studied this particular issue, and have discovered that for many children with ADHD, dynamic seating can offer important benefits that can help improve classroom behavior and academic outcomes.
Parents of children with autism are acutely familiar with “meltdowns.” Over time, they grow attuned to them, gain a better sense of what and when to expect them and become increasingly adept at avoiding the most obvious triggers, reducing frequency and minimizing the effects.
FOCUS Fort Myers ABA therapists know that to outsiders, meltdowns and tantrums can seem analogous. The reality is they are very different. It’s not the result of a child or person who is trying to be difficult or disruptive (though many autism parents are familiar with the looks and judgments of people who assume so). Meltdowns occur when a child is utterly overwhelmed and often unable to express that in a way that is appropriate or easily understood.
Further, ABA therapists recognize meltdowns aren’t the only way someone with autism might express these intense feelings. It might also manifest with the person withdrawing from or avoiding a situation or interaction. It’s unique for every person, and often, recognizing these other indicators can signal to parents, teachers and caregivers when it’s time to intervene or remove someone from a situation.
Pediatric speech and language therapy is hard work – best achieved through fun-and-games.
Adults tend to disregard play as a silly childhood indulgence. However, consensus among speech therapists AND child development researchers is playtime is pivotal in speech-language progress – and overall development. In fact, almost all learning in those first five years occurs in play-based exploration. Further, these skills take root much faster when adults actively participate in child-led play.
FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists have a treasure trove of toys, games, crafts and other fun things to encourage play, which directly spurs expressive and receptive language development. We’re also constantly on the lookout for new ideas. Sometimes we even make our own! Sometimes playful interest is captured in the simplest forms, like mushing food, making a paper bag rattle or blowing bubbles.
Chronic constipation is a crappy problem – one common among all children, but especially prevalent among children special needs. Pediatric physical therapy at FOCUS Fort Myers may help, using exercises to strengthen pelvic muscles and improve posture.
We know this can be an uncomfortable issue to discuss, but if it’s causing your child pain and difficulty on a regular basis, it’s one that requires attention because it’s essential to good health. The Journal of Pediatrics reports constipation among children with autism is associated with increased emergency department visits and inpatient admissions. Depending on the underlying cause, pediatric physical therapy may help alleviate the problem. Occupational therapists, ABA therapists and even speech therapists can also collaborate on solutions.
Constipation involves either the inability to pass stool or problems that make it not as easy or frequent as one would like.
One analysis published in the journal Gastroenterology examined more than 50 school-age children suffering from functional constipation, all of whom were receiving the “standard” treatment for chronic constipation, which included potty training, education and laxatives. Half were randomly chosen to also receive pediatric physical therapy. Six months later, more than 90 percent of the children who got physical therapy no longer suffered from constipation, compared to about 60 percent of those who didn’t get physical therapy.
The adjustment of starting a new school year is tough on everyone (parents included!). There are the earlier bedtimes and alarms, tighter schedules, new teachers, classmates and after school activities – all a bit jarring for many children. This is especially true for those with autism, for whom a change in routine can spur overwhelming anxiety.
Our Fort Myers ABA therapists at FOCUS know dislike of change is one of autism’s most common diagnostic symptoms, manifesting in a range of ways, including avoidance, distraction, negotiation, resistance – or a full-blown meltdown.
With federal health data now indicating 1 in 65 children in the U.S. has an autism diagnosis, more parents and caregivers are learning how best to navigate challenges with transitions – whether it’s something as seemingly small as moving from playtime to mealtime or as major as starting a whole new school. It’s important to understand both why transitions are so tough for kids the spectrum and also how we as parents, teachers and therapists can help it all go more smoothly.
Speech therapists at FOCUS Fort Myers study for years – first in the classroom and then for the rest of our careers in practice at our clinic – learning ways to help children master key communication skills, from appropriate conversation to phonological awareness to comprehension. We use all sorts of tools to make that happen – including puppets, games, puzzles, swings, crafts – even a ball pit! But the most effective tool? Parents!
Parental engagement in helping carry over these same strategies with their child undeniably results in better, faster progress. (And the earlier we/ you get started, the better!)
We can cite countless examples that have us convinced, but it’s backed up by peer-reviewed research too.
Parental Involvement Helps Children Make Faster Speech Therapy Progress
The American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology followed the effects of parental involvement in language intervention on children between 1.5-to-5-years-old with language impairments that were both primary (language only) and secondary (accompanied by cognitive impairment or disability). Researchers reviewed 18 previous studies examining how well children did when speech therapists offered parents specific strategies to work with their kids outside the clinic setting.
Children love to play, and good thing too because it’s great for their development! Our occupational therapists can cite decades of research detailing the ways in which play is a critical to facilitating physical, cognitive and language development for children. It’s one of the reasons FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers makes every session with children one in which we invite our clients if they want to”come play” rather than “come and do some therapy.” We find ways to engage children that they find interesting, while also working on strengthening their deficits.
Outdoor play in particular has many benefits. Children commonly assigned occupational therapy, such as those Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, premature birth or fetal alcohol syndrome, are at high risk for poor motor development. Engaging them in “motor play” as early and often as possible is important. Once they are ambulatory (i.e., moving), children should be given more opportunity to explore the world outside. Not only do they get a fun chance to work on those motor development skills, they can connect with parents, siblings and other peers and are also less likely to become obese later in life (sparing them a host of health problems in the long-run).
Substantial research concludes children who spent time outdoors do better with interpersonal relationships with peers, have less aggression and more effectively self-regulate. Occupational therapists know children with delays and disabilities especially thrive with outdoor play because they get an opportunity to work on essential development of strength, reflexes, concentration and balance while having fun doing it.
When it comes to speech therapy, there are two general schools of thought: Early Intervention and Watch and Wait. Increasingly, doctors, specialists and teachers are on board with what our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapists have been saying for years: Early intervention is key!
You may be familiar with the legend of Albert Einstein’s childhood speech delay leading to his parents’ concern he might not be bright. This purported speech delay of an unequivocal genius lends inspiration to many who struggle with similar issues. Unfortunately, it’s also given families of “late talkers” validation for the “Watch and Wait Approach” – which is typically not what we advise.
Until fairly recently, most pediatricians were content to let parents wait before seeking assistance with their children’s speech concerns, often not pressing for speech therapy until the child was school-age. That is changing – much to our enthusiasm! Clinicians are increasingly aware that speech impairments in children can lead to a greater likelihood of social struggles and reading problems. The younger the child, the more malleable their brains, and the better outcomes we have.
Is there really ever such a thing as a perfect family trip? There’s bound to be a headache somewhere along the road – or in the sky or on the ship. Parents of children with special needs may find the thought of a family vacation especially overwhelming. Pediatric occupational therapists at FOCUS hope you won’t be discouraged. There are strategies you can employ to help things go more smoothly.
Just as they are for typically-developing children, family trips are important for children with special needs to bond with loved ones, make lasting memories, experience new environments and cultures and just generally enjoy themselves. In fact, these journeys can be even more important in some ways for children with special needs because they offer a chance to expand their “safety bubble.”When they have an opportunity to be gently pushed from their comfort zones, we help better prepare them in life – not just to take more trips, but to be more at ease experiencing new things in general.
Our occupational therapists’ biggest mission is helping to prepare children to lead happy, independent, successful lives. That means helping them learn the life skills necessary to function in our society. At the FOCUS clinic, that can involve helping with fine motor skills like hand-writing, life skills like teeth brushing, eating and dressing, adapting to unfamiliar and non-preferred tasks and working on transitioning from one activity to the next. Families who are planning a trip this summer can utilize some of the same strategies occupational therapists do when determining how to make the travel as pleasant as possible for everyone.