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.
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.
At FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers, we understand that when children are lagging behind developmentally, interconnected services are vital to helping them catch up. For instance, children with language delays who clearly need speech therapy many times also benefit from occupational therapy to work on things like improved social interaction or classroom skills. Children with conditions like autism, down syndrome, brain injuries or ADHD struggle with speech, but also need ABA therapy to help curb problem behaviors. Similarly, occupational therapy helps them master self-care (i.e., brushing their teeth, feeding themselves, managing their time, etc.), while physical therapy is effective in helping them accomplish those goals by strengthening key muscle groups.
The benefit of interconnected services was recently further underscored in a study published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. Study authors found that when a child’s fine motor skills improved, so too did their vocabulary development – to a pretty significant degree. Researchers concluded this lends credence to the “nimble hands, nimble minds” theory of child development.
The “nimble hands, nimble minds” theory is that when we focus on improving a child’s motor skills (i.e., using hands to manipulate a puzzle, grasp a pencil, cut with scissors, etc.), we will also boost cognitive learning. One reason is that kids tend to “get it” more when the cognitive skill sets we’re trying to teach are rooted in some kind of hands-on physical activity. So for example, when our FOCUS therapists are teaching a child to understand and communicate about spacial concepts (over, under, in, out, bigger, smaller, etc.), we will usually do so through some form of physical play, like building blocks or coloring or putting a puzzle together or climbing into a ball pit. Because we have rooted the cognitive lesson in a physical action, the child is more likely to retain it (and have fun doing it!).
Handwriting is a part of our daily lives, whether we’re jotting down a shopping list or taking important notes at a meeting or filling out forms at a bank. Right or wrong, people make judgments about us based on our handwriting, and a failure to conquer this skill can prove a hindrance in basic tasks. Fort Myers occupational therapists at FOCUS are committed to helping children in Southwest Florida master the skill of handwriting.
January 23rd marked the recognition of National Handwriting Day, as designated by the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association in 1977 – coinciding with John Hancock’s birthday. (You may remember from history class John Hancock was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence who infamously penned his signature in an over-large font).
It’s not just our signature that says a lot about us. Handwriting is a form of communication, and our occupational therapists believe it’s essential for the promotion of clear thought. Issues with handwriting can be a red flag of certain developmental problems in children, and it can potentially hinder one’s ability to learn because so many instructors rely heavily on written coursework to grade progress. While it’s true that an increasing amount of our communications are conducted via keyboard these days, handwriting has not been abandoned. We see it in medical notes, prescriptions, journalistic work and more. The ability to write legibly helps us not just in student coursework, but in many tasks of everyday living – and that’s ultimately what occupational therapy is all about.
Part of what our pediatric therapists at FOCUS Fort Myers work on with all “our kids” is regulation of emotional responses. Let’s face it: We all get angry. It takes time to learn to control our responses, and even adults still struggle with it. It can be especially difficult for children who have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We recognize it;s also sometimes challenging for parents to walk the fine line between healthy expression of emotion and losing one’s temper. That’s true for ALL parents at some time or another, but it’s especially true for those with children who have ADHD.
But here is reason to keep trying: A recent study by researchers with The Ohio State University, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, found that when parents reduced harsh parenting approaches (i.e., criticism, yelling, physical punishment, etc.), it had a powerful calming effect on children with ADHD. By instead using positive reinforcement, kids were more responsive and cooperative.
The researchers delved into what they identified as the physiological markers of emotional regulation within children of preschool age who had been diagnosed with ADHD. They evaluated these markers after different types of parent and child disciplinary interactions. What they discovered was that when parents used less physical discipline, less yelling, etc., and instead focused problem-solving, their children responded better and the discipline was more effective.
Motor planning is the ability to plan and carry out motor tasks. As our occupational therapists in Fort Myers know, this can be especially difficult for children with cerebral palsy. Early intervention is critical because motor planning is essential for every day functioning. When one has a deficit in motor planning, it’s going to result in motor behavior that is slower, clumsier and inefficient. It can mean physical activities are tougher to learn, retain and generalize. They may end up appearing awkward when trying to carry out a specific task. Occupational therapy helps children with cerebral palsy by working on these skills day-in, day-out, using fun activities to help them master each element of the activity.
A recent longitudinal study published in the Journal of Clinical Neuropsychology explored this connection between motor planning and cerebral palsy. Researchers closely followed 22 children with cerebral palsy alongside 22 other neuro-typical children of the same age. Each child was asked to perform a task that required those involved sacrificing their initial posture comfort to achieve an end-state comfort. Researchers made repeated observations over the course of a year.
What they discovered was that children with cerebral palsy showed poorer end-state planning when achieving critical angles. Further, unlike those children in the “control group,” those with cerebral palsy did not display improved motor planning skills over the course of a year. Researchers recommended more efforts be made to intervene and enhance motor planning skills for children with cerebral palsy.
At FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers, we can offer help from both occupational therapists and physical therapists, teaming up together simultaneously or working from the same plan of care, to help a child improve their motor planning skills.
Staff Report, FOCUS Therapy
Change is a part of life. From a strict dictionary definition, a transition is a passage from one state, subject or place to another. For children with delays or special needs, transitions can be difficult, whether it’s from one activity to another, one functional level to another or one environment to another.
Occupational therapy helps prepare children for changes in their roles and routines. In fact, one of the key goals of our Fort Myers occupational therapists is to help support transition for families and children – with or without disabilities – so that children can grow and learn to be as independent as possible.
A primary objective in occupational therapy is to help children in participate and function in daily routines. When a child can successfully transition from one task to another or one stage in life to another, overall long-term outcomes are better.
Staff Report, FOCUS Therapy
At some point, most parents have been on the receiving end of judgmental looks due to a child’s behavior. Tantrums in the cereal aisle are practically an official rite of passage for all toddlers. But “bad” behavior could be a sign of a deeper issue. Occupational therapists and speech therapists in Fort Myers know that sometimes, “bad” behavior goes hand-in-hand with a clinical condition with symptoms that can be mitigated with prompt and proper treatment.
For instance, a child grappling with a speech delay may find the most effective form of communication is behavior some find socially unacceptable. These behaviors can include tantrums and aggression, but also non-compliance, running away or resistance. Understandably, parents may feel unprepared or unequipped, and respond ineffectually with tactics like yelling, repeated admonition or just giving in. Both parent and child remain trapped in a frustrating cycle.
According to one study published by researchers with Western Michigan University, a significant portion of children with language disorders also have co-occurring emotional or behavior disorders. Despite this, most children diagnosed with an emotional or behavior disorder have not been evaluated for speech-language problems. When a child has receptive and expressive delays or disorders, it can directly impact their social functioning – and in turn, their behavior.
By Krystle Hofstetter, MScOTR/L, Occupational Therapist at FOCUS
Almost all of us have one, yet we try our best to pretend they don’t exist. They vary in size, shape, color and even texture. Some are new, while others we’ve had as long as we can remember. Some are painful, even years after they formed.
We’re talking about scars.
What all scars have in common is that each has related scar tissue that compromises the balance and function of surrounding tissue. In some cases, it can even be detrimental to other areas of our bodies. Scar tissue does not remain just at the scar site. Rather, it continues to grow like a vine throughout our bodies over the years, causing or contributing to problems down the road.
Children especially may have trouble with scars because their bodies are still growing. Adults may experience chronic pain, tightness and unease if scars aren’t treated properly.
As a Fort Myers occupational therapist, I recognize that untreated scars may hinder development and wound recovery in several surprising ways. The good news there is a method to help address these issues. It’s called Scar Release Treatment, and it produces little to no pain and could have long-lasting benefits for you and/ or your child.
FOCUS Therapy is proud to support OneTree.org in its mission to reforest this community and beyond, one tree at a time. The “Trees for Mom” campaign by OneTree is a great local initiative that involves planting trees right here in Southwest Florida. It’s an opportunity to name a tree after a special mom in your life!
Mother’s Day is coming up – just a few days left – and Trees for Mom is a sweet way to honor her with a lasting symbol, and simultaneously make Southwest Florida more beautiful. Each tree is just $12, and OneTree was co-founded by one of our own in the “FOCUS family!”
Our Fort Myers speech therapists, occupational therapists and physical therapists at FOCUS believe in planting the seeds of effective communication, growth and well-being for the next generation. Success is achievable when we aim for steady, long-term solutions and stay the course.