Your child has autism. You know it. The rest of the family knows it. His teachers and therapists know it. Maybe even a few of his classmates know it. But when should HE know it? And how should you tell him?
It’s something many of our FOCUS Therapy families grapple with at some point. The answers really depends on the individual. Some parents opt to tell their child when they’re very young, hoping an early understanding of why they struggle more with certain things might make it all less confusing. Other parents wait until their child becomes aware of their differences and starts asking questions. A few parents wait until their child is older with a better ability to fully understand their diagnosis. Our FOCUS speech, occupational and ABA therapists know there isn’t one right answer, but we’re here to support our patients and help guide families in these discussions.
Recently, a patient’s mother asked about the best way to handle some of the questions her 7-year-old son on the spectrum was asking. Christie Lawrence, a registered behavior technician (RBT) with our Fort Myers ABA therapy team, herself the mother of a teenager with autism, offered her thoughts.
“I would say the most important part of informing your child of their autism diagnosis is to empower them,” Lawrence said. “Autism can bring many gifts, and it’s so important to teach our children to find and focus on their strengths and build confidence from their success.”
Why did the man sit on the clock? …. Because he wanted to be on time!
Compelling a child to complete tasks in a timely manner is a daily struggle for so many parents. This is especially true when your child has developmental delays and disabilities. As Fort Myers occupational therapists, we recognize that time management is not only an executive function skill that our brains will keep working on well into our 20s (!), but it’s also an abstract concept that’s tough for a lot of kids to grasp – to their parents dismay!
For the most part, schoolchildren aren’t taught time concepts until 2nd grade. Yet we often expect kids their age and even younger to “get it” when it comes to how time works and how to manage the time they have. “You have 8 minutes before we leave for school,” or, “It’s 20 minutes until bedtime.” And then we’re frustrated when they aren’t ready or have a meltdown at the transition. After all, you DID give them a heads-up!
The good news is, there are several strategies our occupational therapists can offer to help your child both grasp the concept of time and manage it better.
Beyond the current need for social distancing, there are many reasons parents may be looking for pediatric therapy options that would allow their kids to have Florida speech therapy at home. There’s the convenience of it, particularly if you have to work or have other kids and commitments. Travel can be especially difficult too if you live in a more remote area.
Whatever the incentive, FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers offers the next best thing: Teletherapy. Also known as virtual therapy, it’s a service we’ve been offering since even before the pandemic, becoming a regional leader in the field. We now extend it not just to those in Southwest Florida but to kids across the whole State of Florida who may be looking for speech therapy at home. Our reason is simple: It works.
Although many are initially skeptical of speech teletherapy, research and our own anecdotal evidence have proven it’s actually very effective for many kids with a range of conditions. And, it can be carried out in the comfort of your own home with a laptop and internet connection.
For many kids, learning to independently put on their socks and shoes is an important early childhood skill and major milestone. It’s an important indicator of emerging independence and self-care, and it also lays the foundation for planning and sequencing of more complex skills. But our occupational therapy team knows it can also be difficult to learn.
Several skills are required for one to be able to put on/take off their shoes and socks, including:
- Crossing midline
- Bilateral coordination
- Intrinsic and extrinsic muscle strength in hands
- Pincer grasp
- Hand-eye coordination
- Biomechanical postural control
- Forearm pronation and supination
All of this to say: It’s something that takes some baseline skills and practice! Children with delays, disabilities, injuries and other challenges may find it even more difficult to master if they struggle with:
- Poor finger strength (needed to manipulate items).
- Difficulty planning/sequencing (Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, etc.).
- Trouble with self-regulation (critical to persisting with a tough task).
- Limited interest in self care or independence.
In occupational therapy, we tend to see our mission as helping children succeed. However, we also recognize that it’s equally important to teach kids how to fail.
That may seem strange, but the reality is failure is an inevitable outcome for everyone at some point or another. The size of the failure may vary, but knowing how to better tolerate will reduce meltdowns, anxiety and social difficulties (which can exacerbate the initial problem). Perhaps even more importantly, kids who know it’s Ok to fail sometimes are less likely to give up – and more likely to try new things! Ultimately, knowing how to self-regulate and cope with failure sets your child up for success in the long-term.
This point was underscored several times by NBA great Michael Jordan, who throughout his career spoke about the importance of losing. Resilience and perseverance in the face of challenges are a huge part of what has much him a winner, he’s said.
“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
Helping kids figure out ways to climb it, go through it and work around it are a huge part of what our FOCUS occupational therapy team does every day. Self-regulation is a big piece of that puzzle, particularly with children who are diagnosed with delays, disabilities and other challenges.
Yoga and occupational therapy go hand-in-hand. The word “yoga” literally means “to yoke” or “unite.” As pediatric occupational therapists, we’re often seeking to “unite” children’s physical, cognitive and emotional selves – always treating the whole child, rather than their compartmentalized sets of eyes, ears, legs and hands.
Occupational therapy focuses on the development of:
- Gross motor skills
- Fine motor skills
- Sensory processing
- Behavior regulation
- Social skills
Yoga uses breathing techniques, mindfulness and poses to help a person’s body become calm and energized. It helps to develop:
- Bilateral coordination
- Processing of sensory information
Yoga is also great for helping teach focus, self-regulation and calming the mind and body. It helps foster imagination too. Of course, kids don’t know they’re working on all of this – especially when we’re using fun games and poses and tools like Cosmic Kids Yoga. That’s why our Fort Myers occupational therapists LOVE using yoga in sessions, and encourage parents to do so at home too. Get down on the floor with your child and turn it into family fun time!
One of the most important things we do as pediatric occupational therapists is help educate, support and strategize with parents to give kids all the tools they need to be more fully involved in the activities of daily living. Haircuts are a part of that – but a lot of kids extremely dislike them. There is ample research to support what many parents of children with autism already know: More than 96 percent of kids with ASD report hyper- and hypo-sensitivities to certain stimuli. That can make something seemingly simple like getting a haircut an overwhelming experience. Our Fort Myers OT team has tips to help you before your child’s next trip to the clippers.
If your child’s pediatrician has referred your child to occupational therapy, probably one of the first things you’ll do is hop on Google and search “Fort Myers occupational therapist.” FOCUS is often one of the first search results you’ll see, but we know you have dozens of choices.
So how do you choose the occupational therapist who is right for your child? Our OT team has some tips.
By Rachel Revehl, FOCUS Therapy Parent
Earlier this year, prior to the pandemic, one of our son’s speech therapists from FOCUS approached me with what seemed at the time an absurd idea: Would we consider allowing him to do some of his speech therapy sessions via teletherapy? He’d be a great candidate, she said. She also thought it might help us with our busy schedule.
That last part was tempting, but…
“Um, thanks,” I replied. “But, I just don’t think that would work for him.”
Seriously, how could it? He would NEVER sit for a full session without a therapist physically in front of him, I thought.
Many of the children we treat at FOCUS have some sensory processing issues. These are difficulties organizing and responding to information that is “read” through the senses. Some kids are undersensitive (sensory seeking), some are oversensitive (sensory avoiding) – and some are both, depending on the sense and stimuli. When a child has trouble managing sensory input, it can have a significant impact on learning and everyday life. One of the things our Fort Myers occupational therapists frequently recommend to help children with sensory processing issues is called “heavy work.”
Heavy work is a strategy we use in therapy and recommend to parents to target a sense called proprioception, with the ultimate aim of:
- Improving attention and focus.
- Decreasing defensiveness.
- Helping to calm/regulate.
Heavy work can actually benefit all children, not just those with sensory processing difficulty. Our occupational therapists have found it especially helpful to have kids do heavy work just before or at the very beginning of our sessions.