Autism is a neurological condition characterized, in part, by restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities. Someone with autism may insist on adhering to the same routines and rituals – and any attempt at changing the slightest element can set off a major meltdown. But the fact is: We live in an ever-changing world. As Fort Myers occupational therapists, one of our primary goals when treating children with autism spectrum disorder is to teach them flexibility.
Flexibility is the quality of being easily bent but not broken. It’s not a natural skill for any of us. Think about your reactions when events take a sudden, unexpected (and unwanted) turn. But the ability to be flexible is what allows us to move on from the big emotions of that and continue with the task or the rest of the day.
Change is just an inherent part of the world we’re in. Lots of kids with autism struggle with this – and often for seemingly very minor things. Helping them learn to get themselves “unstuck” is critical for functioning in daily life.
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, and answers really depend 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 grasp what their diagnosis means. Our FOCUS speech, occupational and ABA therapists know there isn’t a singular 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 and 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.
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!
FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers is hosting its first ever FOCUS POCUS Trunk-or-Treat event of socially-distanced Halloween fun for all our patients & families!
We’re welcoming everyone to dress up, bring a treat bag and join us for games, candy, prizes and more!
Our Southwest Florida speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapists are committed to providing enriching experiences for our young patients while encouraging the kind of inclusion we want to see at all events. That’s why we’re opening our FOCUS POCUS Trunk-or-Treat fun to our patients as well as their siblings and family.
From 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 29th, FOCUS Therapy staffers and therapists will park their decorated vehicles a full vehicle-length apart in the parking lot outside our clinic, 4997 Royal Gulf Circle, Fort Myers, FL 33996. Parents will be encouraged to park to the west end of the office plaza, and we’ll have a carefully directed flow of trunk-or-treaters, with only one family allowed in front of a vehicle at a time.
“Halloween and trick-or-treat are such special events that kids look forward to all year long,” said FOCUS Therapy owner/founder Jennifer Voltz-Ronco. “We know a lot of families this year may be wary of the traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating, but we don’t want anyone to miss out on the fun. It’s also great for our kiddos with disabilities and delays who could use some practice before venturing out door-to-door over the weekend.”
Some of our therapists will have fun, engaging activities and games at their “trunk stop” for children to play and engage, while still remaining socially-distanced.
“For many of our patients, traditional trick-or-treat can be tough anyway, whether because of sensory issues, language deficits or physical challenges,” Voltz-Ronco explained. “Trunk-or-treat events in general have sort of always been the perfect opportunity to allow for both tradition and accessibility. And now this year, as families with children of all abilities in our community are expressing concern about safe trick-or-treating, our team is excited to be involved in making that happen for them.”
For more information, contact FOCUS Therapy at (239) 313-5049 or e-mail Jennifer.Voltz@FOCUSFlorida.com.
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.
There are many established benefits to giving children regular household chores. From an occupational therapy perspective, this holds especially true for children with special needs.
Some of the known upsides include:
- Establishing routine. Having chores on a set schedule can help reduce anxiety, improve focus and even avoid meltdowns. Many kids on the autism spectrum, for example, feel more secure when they know what to expect next. Chores assigned at the same time each day or day of the week or after certain activities can make for smoother transitions. Visual schedules can help with this too.
- Teaching valuable life skills. This includes learning the task itself but also responsibility. Children with developmental delays and other conditions may need more practice with certain things and sometimes modifications are necessary, but never assume they can’t just because of their diagnosis. Talk to your occupational therapist if you have questions.
- Contributing to the family. No matter what a child’s abilities, there are always ways to help out. It also gives children confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
- Development of fine and gross motor skills and sensory integration. Chores require use of either big muscle groups (gross motor skills) or careful hand-eye coordination and finger manipulation (fine motor skills). These are things our Fort Myers occupational therapy team is probably working on with your child. Chores are a good way to practice and reinforce those skills.
Parents of children disabilities can quickly find themselves immersed in a dizzying world of various doctors, therapies, medications and treatment. The thought of their child spending several days a week – for years – in speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapies is frankly overwhelming. So we do understand the temptation of quick-fix, non-medical services that promise to “get your child talking” or “catch your child up” with just a month or so of intensive programming.
Call them hype or scams – but they don’t work.
In fact, some do more harm than good. They waste precious time and valuable resources – which can be especially damaging when you’re encouraged to interrupt or leave the routine of traditional, physician-recommended therapies.
“Parents of children with special needs will go to the ends of the Earth to get their child the additional help they need,” said Jennifer Voltz-Ronco, owner and founder of FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers. What we don’t want to see is parents being taken advantage of. In fact, we care so much about these kids that we will even help parents investigate other treatment options and share information about and with other medical providers if that’s the direction parents want to go. But it pains us to see parents blindly signing up for ‘treatment’ from centers that make big promises, but objectively just don’t compare to what we’re offering in terms of quality and effectiveness.”