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A Pediatric Perspective

Early Intervention Resource Roundup
August 29, 2014 11:45 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
Today's blog is about resources for children and their families. When working in pediatrics, especially Birth-to-Three, you find that many families are struggling to make ends meet due to the additional costs it takes to raise a child with special needs. I'd like to offer you some resources you can share that may come in handy in different areas of need. 

Good Days from Chronic Disease Fund - provides assistance when families cannot afford the medication they need.

United Healthcare Children's Foundation - UHCCF is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that provides grants to cover health-related services to families that their insurance may not cover or may not cover in full.  Children do not need to have insurance with United Healthcare to quailify for help.

Bright Steps Forward - Bright Steps Forward's website states that they are "a 501c3 nonprofit organization that provides funding for intensive pediatric therapy to financially disadvantaged children with neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy, disabilities of prematurity, autism and other congenital or acquired conditions that affect their physical functioning."

Aubrey Rose Foundation - Helps with medical bills for families who have children with a live threatening condition.  They also help with educational scholarships and assist with funding for "simple" heart procedures for needy children.

Disabled Children's Relief Fund -  Assists disabled children in obtaining wheelchairs, orthopedic braces, walkers, lifts, hearing aids, eyeglasses, medical equipment, physical therapy, and surgery.

Children's Charity Fund - Assists disabled children in obtaining medical equipment and provides scholarships to help children further their education.

Have a Heart - Helps families with children who are fighting cancer who are experiencing financial difficulties. Have a heart will assist them with medical bills, medical treatments, therapises, equipment, transportation, and household expenses.

Healthwell Foundation - "When health insurance is not enough, HealthWell fills the gap. We assist patients living with chronic and life-altering illnesses in paying their share of prescription drug copayments, deductibles, and health insurance premiums."

Kelly Bush Foundation - Assissts individuals with spinal cord injuries afford adaptive athletic equipment.

Travis Roy Foundation - Assists individuals with spinal cord injurie by providing adaptive equipment.

Gracie's Hope - Helps provide funding for a wide range of therapies for families of children with special needs. Gracie's Hope will even help with therapies that are often over looked (hyperbaric chamber, neuro and bio feedback, Chelation, etc.)

Association of Blind Citizens - provides financing up to 50% of the cost of adaptive devices and/or software.

Faith's Hope - "Our aim is to be a safety net for critically ill patients and their families. Whether the need exists for groceries, house payments, car payments, or counseling, the desire of Faith's Hope is to be there for these families in their immediate time of need."

Gia Nicole Angel Foundation - Helps with purchasing items that will enhance the daily functioning of children with special needs.

Kya's Krusade - Helps families afford adaptive equipment as well as continue to afford physical therapy, occupational thearpy, and hippotherapy sessions.

These are just a few of many different funding sources to help families with children who have special needs or are handicapped.  If you know of others that we can add to this list please message me and I would be happy to add them so others will be aware of them. 

When/If you share any of these places with your families please be sure that they read what the requirements as each application has different quialifying criteria. The other then to watch for is when their application deadline is and how frequently they look through their applications and award them to the families chosen.



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Back to School Tips
August 22, 2014 2:30 PM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
I can't believe how fast this summer has flown by. I can remember when I was a kid and it felt like the summer went on forever. So slow that by the end of it I was ready to go back to school, if you can believe that!

My oldest started his junior year of college this past Wednesday and my youngest starts his sophomore year of high school next Wednesday. I was in the car with my youngest this morning and I mentioned that we had to start getting up early beginning Sunday so we can be ready for Wednesday. He looked at me total perplexed and asked "Why? What happens on Wednesday?" He thought he still had a couple weeks left. 

So my blog this week is dedicated to getting ready for school and sharing some strategies that may help make the transition from our more relaxed summer days to the more routine and scheduled school days an easier one.

Wakeup - If the student is used to getting up whenever they wanted to over the summer or, at least, later than they had to when they were getting up for school, it is important to start getting them up earlier now. Depending on how much time you have before school starts, begin with getting up at least 15 minutes earlier every couple of days. If you don't have as much time, begin with getting them up 15 minutes earlier each morning until you reach the typical time you would get up for school.

Bedtime - The same type of strategy used for wake up time can also be used for bed time. If the student is used to staying up later than their school-time bedtime it is important to get them ready to falling asleep closer to that time again. It is important to remember that turning off ALL electronics at least an hour prior to bedtime helps to slow down the brain and get the student ready for sleep.  Studies have shown that electronics at bedtime keep our brains functioning long after we try to close our eyes and sleep. 

Reading - As we all know school means reading. Students will have to read from their text books, from web pages when doing research, and from library books to meet their reading goals. Reading is one thing my youngest son despises more than anything else in the world right now. With dyslexia and memory processing disorders, it makes it very hard for him to read and retain what he is reading.  We use a wonderful app that is available on the computer and on his iPad called "Bookshare/Read2Go."  This application will not just read up-to-date books to him, but highlights the words as it reads so he can follow along. 

We started his summer reading right when he got back from camp. He has picked a book from the school's required reading list on the Iditarod and loves it. Try to find a book that will interest your student.  It could be one that goes along with his hobby or one that goes along with a subject he might like to know more about. The more interest they have in it, the better chance they will have of finishing it. It also helps if you set limits on reading.  A student who has a hard time reading will look at a book and feel overwhelmed so set either a time limit or a chapter limit. Break the book down to make it less overwhelming and more achievable. This will make reading time less of a chore and the student will be able to feel successful after meeting their time limit/chapter limit.

What to Expect - This is especially important for younger children or children who experience stress/anxiety about going back to school. Share with the student what their day may look like.  If possible, see if you can get a tour of the school so they will know where their classrooms are and where they will need to go for lunch, library, gym, etc. The more the child knows the more comfortable the child will be when school starts. The more comfortable they feel, the more successful going back to school will be.

Supplies - If possible, have the student go with you to get their supplies. Allow them to pick out the notebooks and pencils and pencil carriers. Let them chose the backpack they want. If they go to school with some favorite things, they will feel more comfortable. Also be careful what backpack they chose.  You can find guidelines here on what sizes are best for students. Many children go back with backpacks that are much too big and heavy for them. This can cause physical pains and injuries. It can also make it very hard for them to get from classroom to classroom.

Try to keep in mind that the student may take some time to adjust both at home and at school with the new routines and demands placed on them. The first few days they may even go home and fall asleep before dinner. When possible it is a good idea to allow more open communications between teachers, therapists, and parents the first couple of weeks so each one knows what is going on. If something is not working well everyone will know and hopefully be able to share strategies to fix what isn't working well. 

"Tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn."  -Benjamin Franklin

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Childhood Depression
August 15, 2014 9:00 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
When I heard that Robin Williams had passed away my heart broke.  When I learned that he had been suffering from severe depression and committed suicide my heart shattered. 

Depression - an often misunderstood disease.  A disease that is not easy for those who are suffering from it or for those who love someone suffering from it.  It's not just an adult disease either.  Did you know that as many as 1 in every 33 children suffer from depression?  Because of this it is important to be aware of the signs of depression in children and to make sure parents are also aware and know what to do if they think their child may be depressed.

The National Association of School Psychologists has an article that shares information on depression in children.  In their article they share that parents and educators should be aware of the following characteristics of a child suffering from depression:

  • A lack of energy and enthusiasm
  • Being withdrawn and not appearing to be able to enjoy what is happening in their life
  • Inability to concentrate or focus on day to day activities
  • Performing poorly in school
  • Poor appetite - no interest in eating
  • Frequent sadness, crying,
  • A major change in eating and sleeping habits
  • Irritability and acting out

As I was doing research for this blog I couldn't help but think that many of the kids I work with exhibit several of these symptoms at any given time.  I'm guessing you're thinking the same thing, right?  What is important to keep in mind is that many children will show one or more of these symptoms as they grow but it becomes a concern when they are unable to move past them. Kids Health offers help understanding depression in children and shares that it is normal for children to be sad or depressed as they grow and go through their developmental stages.  It becomes a concern when they get stuck or their sadness/depression persists for more than a month or two and they begin to show a lack of interest in playing or doing anything at all day after day after day. 

The good news is that in the majority of cases depression can be treated successfully.  This is why it is very important to get a doctor or therapist involved to help.  Often with children the therapy will consist of both individual and family sessions.  When working with children Play Therapy is a common therapeutic approach that is used to treat depression.  Children learn through their play and they can express themselves better, often without realizing it, through their play. 

So what should a parent or educator do if they suspect a child is going through an extended period of depression?  Get help as soon as possible.  This may require starting with a referral from their pediatrician to a child psychiatrist, child psychologist or other mental health therapist who specializes in child mental health issues. Boston Children's Hospital has an excellent section on the web site that lists what to look for and where to turn if you suspect a child may be suffering from major depression.

It's hard to believe that our little ones could suffer from depression.  I mean after all, they're just kids... but even some children can fall into a place of such sadness they don't know how to get back out again.  If you suspect a child, or anyone for that matter, may be in such a place please try and get them help.  With the right help they can often find their way out and go on to live a happy, good life. 


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Bedtime Routines
August 8, 2014 10:02 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
We all know the importance of what a good night's sleep means to a child.  It allows their body to heal and repair itself.  It gives the brain time to grow and develop. A good night's sleep will also result in better behavior during the day and better ability to concentrate during school. Yet some children are not getting as much sleep as they should to stay healthy and be open to learning.

Your typical infant will sleep between 15 - 16 hours a day.  heir sleep is usually broking up in 2-4 hour "naps" during the day and night. Often waking to eat before falling back asleep again.  As they get older they will begin to stay awake for longer periods of time to play and learn.  As they reach their 1 year birthday the typical child should be sleeping through the night as well as taking 1-2 naps a day with each nap lasting between 1-3 hours.  As they grow into a toddler they should be getting between 10 to 14 hours of sleep each day with 1 nap during the day lasting 1-2 hours. As children near the 30 month mark they begin to give up their naps and stay awake for the whole day.  They will sleep usually for 12 hours a night (go to bed, for instance, around 7:00pm and wake up at 7:00am).

It is important to get children into good sleeping habits as early as possible.  Sleep for Kids has an excellent article on understanding children's sleeping habits and how to get them into good sleeping habits at a variety of different ages.  One recurring theme in each group is the importance of establishing a consistent before bed routine to help calm and get the child ready for bed.  The other is that children should not be using any type of electronical device before bed (TV, iPad, computer, etc). WebMD has an article explaining why it is so important to turn off the electronics in order to get into good sleep patterns.  An article on the CNN website explains how the light from our electronics gives our bodies the wrong message that it is still "light" out and we should be awake.  This is why it is so important to turn off any electronics at least 1-2 hours prior to bedtime to get a good solid sleep.

When it comes to getting a bed time routine that works for your child be sure to try a few different things so you can find what works and what doesn't work.  If you find that a child is more awake after bath time it might be best to give the bath in the morning when they wake up or after their afternoon nap.  If a child is more awake after reading books then switch the time you read books to the morning or before lunch.  Just because you've read or been told that a bath or reading books prior to bed is the best way to start a bedtime routine does not mean that it will work for every single child out there.  Some children will find bathes and book reading more arousing than calming.  Some children will find a nice lullaby or classical music selection played when they sleep works best.  Others may like nothing more than the sound of white noise. 

As each child is unique so might their bedtime routines be unique to them.  The most important thing, as shared above, is to establish a routine that works and that is consistently followed every night.  Children do best with routines and this includes at bedtime.  The sooner you can establish a routine that works, the sooner your child should be able to sleep soundly through the night.


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Sleeping Problems
August 1, 2014 8:43 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
There seems to be an overwhelming number of children on my birth-to-three caseload who are having trouble sleeping lately. Their parents are saying that they are having a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. The children will either keep getting up and not be able to fall back asleep (and this goes on every couple of hours, every night) or they can't fall asleep to begin with and cry for hours. It's not just the older children either who are having trouble. There are several infants who are having trouble too.

The web site The Future of Children has a good journal article on what to expect when a child has been born exposed to drugs in utero. Sleeping problems are mentioned several times throughout the article. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has also written about the sleep problems in children exposed to prenatal drug use and offers suggestions on how to try and help a child sleep better. They recommend that children under 1 year of age should get between 14 and 15 hours of a sleep each night. Children who are 1-3 years of age (toddlers) should get between 12 and 14 hours of sleep. Preschool children should get between 11 and 13 hours and school aged children should get between 10 and 11 hours of sleep.  As we all know, getting the correct amount of sleep helps is essential to help a child better be able to develop and learn properly during their waking hours.

So what are some strategies to help a child who is having trouble sleeping?  The University of Michigan Health System has a detailed article regarding sleep problems and offers a variety of strategies to try and help attain better sleep.  WebMD has an article from Exceptional Parent Magazine titled: "Put Sleep Difficulties to Bed: Advice for Parents of Children with Autism." The Mayo Clinic has an article to help parents of preschool children fall asleep called: "Child Sleep:  Put preschool bedtime problems to sleep." These articles discuss the growing concern of children not getting the right amount of sleep and what might be done to help them.

Today I have shared a quick overview on childhood sleeping problems by posting a few web sites and articles relating to sleeping and sleeping strategies. Please join me in the next couple of weeks as I go into more detail on why there seems to be an increase in children having sleeping problems and the strategies I have found to be most effective in helping to establish healthy sleeping habits.



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Equipment Resource Lists
July 25, 2014 9:56 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof

One of the most frustrating parts of my job is being able to get the items the families I work with need when insurance won't cover it or the family can't afford it. Sometimes families need pieces of equipment to help their child be more mobile. Other times it could be something as simple as a knob puzzle or a simple shape sorter to work on fine motor and eye/hand coordination skills. When I can I purchase the smaller items.

Occasionally we might have a stander or a walker that a family is no longer using and they have given to us to share with families who may need it. More often than not though we just don't have the resources to help. I'm sure we are not the only ones who face this struggle. 

Here in Connecticut we are lucky that we have a place called NEAT (New England Assisted Technology Resource and Education center) in Hartford.  NEAT offers a service for Birth-to-Three providers that allows them to borrow pieces of equipment families may need. The equipment has been donated to NEAT by families who no longer need it. I have borrowed wheelchairs, standers, bath seats, and even corner chairs. If the family still needs it after they are exited from Birth-to-Three they just need to give NEAT their name, number, and address so NEAT can keep track of where the equipment is. Once the family no longer needs it they are asked to return it to NEAT. NEAT will even send over a van to drop off/pick up the equipment.  I do not know if other states offer something similar. If you have a location like NEAT in your town please let me know so I can share it here.

Another place to look is Facebook. Special Needs Gently Used Medical Equipment For Sale is one group where you can list or look for items ranging from eye glass frames to tumblers to car seats and wheelchair adapted vans. It is a "closed group" so you do have to request to join it. Another similar page for Canadian families is Zachslist Pediatric Equipment Exchange.  Both groups offer a chance for its members to post items they are trying to get rid of or that they are ISO (In Search Of). 

There are also numerous "mom's groups" which are more localized to the area where the mom's live. A simple search using the terms "moms" and where you are located will help you to find a group in your area. These groups will not just offer items for sale or items being searched for but they will often also offer support for families who may need it. 

Outside of Facebook there is always Craigslist and I know quite a few people who have success finding things they need on there but I wouldn't feel right if I didn't tell you to be careful. As useful as Craigslist might be there are numerous stories of people who have been ripped off when responding to an add. If you are going to answer a listing here please use caution and never, ever go alone to pick something up or drop something off. There are good and decent people out there but there are also people who will try to scam you.

Another site I have used frequently is the Backpage.com site. Once again you can search by location and then narrow the search by what it is you are looking for.  I have also heard quite a few families have had success using Freecycle websites. With Freecycle you have to become a member and then you can search for free items that others are giving away. This site is not just limited to pediatric equipment and toys. There are listings for everything and anything on here so it can be overwhelming at times when you are looking for something.  A couple other web sites are:

Rehab Equipment Exchange  - a website that lists programs that are available in each state that loan out rehab equipment or that allow people to buy, sell, exchange rehab equipment. The list may not be complete but it does have a decent amount of programs listed. 

Buy and Sell Used Home Medical Equipment - you can search the site by zip code and look for items within a certain radius of where you live. 

Equipment can be expensive and just like clothing and shoes, children may outgrow the equipment quickly.  Being able to find a place to purchase the equipment at a less expensive price or, better yet, borrow it, can be financially helpful to the families we work with. If you know of any other sites that would be useful to the families we work with please let me know about them and I will share them here. 



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Loan Forgiveness
July 18, 2014 9:26 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
As many of you may already know I have decided to return to school and earn my Master's degree. Next Tuesday is my first class. It will be an English class on writing.  I'm actually very excited about it. I love to learn and the fact that my first class is going to be on writing makes it even more exciting. It will just be the one class over the summer and then come October I will start full time with classes on Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. Right now I can't wait to begin - check with me again around the holidays and it might be a different story.

One of the more challenging things I'm up against is finding a way to pay for college. Unfortunately the company I work for does not participate in any type of educational reimbursement or cost matching program. I have applied for financial aid and placed applications in for numerous scholarships. While researching options for payments I did come across the "student loan forgiveness" program that is being offered to many students by the government. AOTA recently succeeded in getting occupational therapists who work with children, teens, and the elderly eligible to receive loan forgiveness.  The National Education website has a list of loan forgiveness programs offered to a variety of occupations.  Another information website with a list of loan forgiveness programs is the FinAid! Website.

The overlying theme for the loan forgiveness is that one is pursuing a career working in a non-profit field, working with children/teens/elderly/veterans, or in a field that provides specific public services or is in a low income area. Most also require you to have made 120 on-time payments before you will even be considered for the program. 

Has anyone taken advantage of any of these programs?  I would love to hear how the process went and if you were able to receive a partial or full refund on any of your student loans. If you were not aware of these programs, do you think you will try and apply for one now that you do? 


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The Importance of Recess
July 11, 2014 9:17 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
We all know that if we ask a young child what their favorite class in school is most wil say "recess!" I can recall how important recess was when I was growing up. It was a time to meet up with friends and share the latest school news or join in a game of kickball or jump rope. We would race one another up the monkey bars (Yes!  We had monkey bars back then) or see who could swing the highest on the swings and then jump off and land the farthest distance away. Recess was a time to get out all the energy we had stored sitting in classes all morning and prepare for the afternoon of classes that were coming. 

As first a mother and then someone working in the O.T. field I could never understand the concept of taking recess away from the children who misbehaved or the children who needed to be pulled from the classroom for a short amount of time to work on special education needs. It seemed to me that these were the children that needed and would benefit the most from all the recess had to offer. When my son was in grade school and had to be pulled several times during the day for special education instruction I always made it a point during his P.P.T's to stress that I did not want him taken out of gym or recess. These were areas he needed to help him make it through the rest of the day. 

There have been numerous articles about the rise in ADHD in our country. Many doctors and parents feel this is happening because of the chemicals/preservatives we put in our foods and/or the increased amount of sugar the children are ingesting either through candy or sodas. Therapists, on the other hand, have a more simple explanation. Our kids are not getting the opportunity as much as they use to to get up and move around.  Children are not allowed to go outside and play all day as they use to when I was a child. It's just not as safe a world as it used to be and these days the chance of something happening to our child is just too great a risk.  Plus with both parents working and more and more children in preschool/daycare settings our children don't have the opportunity to experience free play as much as they use to. The only opportunity most children have to get out and play is often the time they get for recess. An article in Scholastic even explains how important recess is and how it helps give our children a chance to be more focused and open to learning.

Tim Walker recently wrote a great article about his experience teaching in Finland and how he was skeptical at first about their approach to teaching (45 minute sessions, 15 minute breaks - all day long). He even tried to incorporate the American way of teaching (longer sessions with only 1 or 2 breaks all day) thinking the children would learn more but came to realize that those frequent breaks were not hindering the ability of the children to learn but were actually giving them what they needed to stay seated and focused during the lessons. 

The Washington Post also ran an article sharing how author Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist, felt that the increase in ADHD was actually due to our children's lack of opportunity to get out and move around. She feels that the reason our children have such a hard time sitting down and focusing is in part due a decrease in their core strength and balance abilities. She feels that many of our children who are diagnosed with ADHD may in fact have an underdeveloped vestibular system because they no longer have the opportunity to get out and roll down a hill or swing from monkey bars or climb trees. Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I've seen a child climbing a tree or hanging from one of the lower branches. I can remember my nana often calling my sister and me in for lunch only to find us sitting in the branches of one of our trees or crouching down and crawling around playing hide and seek in the tall grass that often took over the bottom half of our yard.

So as we move into summer I offer all the parents, therapists, and teachers out there to take more time out of the day to allow our children an opportunity to get up and move. Instead of sitting inside and watching the TV - have a race to see who can roll down the hill faster. Instead of a therapy session inside, if allowed, take it outside and build an obstacle course in the grass or swing on a swing on your belly with legs dangling or dragging in the dirt. When school gets back in session stand up and fight for your child's right to participating in recess. Let's help our kids get up and move more!


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Unexpected Help
July 3, 2014 10:16 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
Help can sometimes come from the most unlikely place. I have been working with a child who has a "habit" of rocking back and forth before falling asleep at night. Sometimes the rocking will take 10-15 minutes and other times it may take as long as 45-60 minutes. The rocking is usually done as they are sitting in their bed and they will rock and rock and rock. Mom has even padded the crib railings because they have rocked so hard that they cause bruises up and down their spine. Mom has tried other ways to comfort and get the sand man to come but nothing has worked. This little one can be rocked in a rocking chair by mom, fall asleep in another room, have books read to them, take a warm lavender bath ... you name it, they've tried it and the rocking will always be the one thing they do before falling asleep.

We have researched and researched. Suggestions that were offered by other O.T.s and therapist ranged from a vestibular seeking need to not having the right chemicals in the body to be able to fall asleep to having a desire to hit the "fight or flight" center located on the spine up near the neck. We have tried offering sensory input both tactile and vestibular but the rocking has persisted. We have tried no TV, iPads, radio or other electronics before bed but the rocking has persisted. We have tried soft lullaby music and dimmed lights but the rocking has persisted.

Then, miracle of miracles, I was on Facebook when a post came up from the Pediatric Occupational Therapy group I am a member of about a sleep disorder called RMD (Rhythmic Movement Disorder.) I read it from beginning to end and found myself nodding my head and thinking of the little one who rocked. I was so excited about it that I even sent the link to one of the other team members and asked them what they thought. She agreed that it sounded like we may have found a reason behind the rocking.     

I had never expected to find an answer to a case that has been puzzling me for so long on Facebook. I enjoyed being a part of the Facebook Pediatric Occupational Therapy group because of the variety of topics that are brought up and discussed. If you haven't had a chance to join them yet I highly recommend you do. You never know when an answer to something that has been puzzling you may unexpectedly show up.  


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Sensory Friendly 4th of July
July 1, 2014 10:38 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
This upcoming weekend can be a very difficult one for children who have sensory integration challenges.  Some children love the colorful explosions of the fireworks as they burst open in the air and the loud *bang* that, although they knew it is coming, still scares them. For other children the bright colors hurt their eyes and the loud noises their ears.  The crowds that gather to watch the fireworks are too loud, too close, and too sensory overwhelming for them to enjoy anything about the event. Thankfully there are things that can be done that would allow for a sensory friendly 4th of July experiences.

The first option is to, of course, stay home and enjoy the firework displays that are shown on T.V. You can dim the lights in the room you're watching the television and, depending on your child, turn up or turn down the volume. Several TV stations will usually offer viewing of the firework displays going on in different cities. Check your local TV listings for which ones are being offered in your area. 

If you want your child to experience the fireworks outside of the home be sure to bring along items that will help them to enjoy them. If they are sensitive to loud noise, bring along ear plugs or headphones. You don't need to be too fancy. There are a variety of inexpensive ear plugs to choose from that will help drown out the loud noises. Some kids prefer the bigger headphones. (Disclaimer: I use Amazon in links for no other reason than they offer a variety of options in one screen shot. Doing a Googlesearch will come up with other options for purchasing the particular one you may choose.)

If your child is more sensitive to the light you can bring along a pair of fun sunglasses for them to wear when the firework display starts. If they don't like wearing sunglasses a wide brimmed hat or a baseball cap would work to shield some of the display when worn down lower on their heads. Some of the younger children prefer their favorite blanket to cuddle with so they can bring it up over their eyes during the "scarier" light displays.

In years past several movie theaters have offered a sensory friendly viewing of fireworks in one of their theaters.  Just like when they show their sensory friendly movies the fireworks are offered in a theater that is dimmed slightly and with a lower noise level than typical. I have tried searching to see if I can find any listings for this year but sadly I have not been able to come up with any options to offer here. I would suggest, however, to call your local movie theater and see if they may be offering a sensory friendly fireworks viewing.

Social stories to share what to expect and trying to visit the place where the fireworks will be held before hand are also ways to help children who may have a hard time get more comfortable with the experience. As crowds can vary it is hard to say if getting there first and finding a quiet place to sit will work or if getting there later and finding a spot that isn't already crowded (on the fringe of the crowd) may be more effective. Regardless of where you may end up watching the display please be sure to have a game plan to leave if the experience becomes too much for your child. There is nothing worse than getting stuck somewhere with a child who is overwhelmed and melting down. Thankfully if you take the steps before hand to try and prevent this from happening you may just end up with a lovely evening spent watching the fireworks with your family - whether it is being outside and part of the crowd or being inside in your own home in a dark room and watching the display on the T.V. -

May your 4th of July be a sensory free one of beautiful and colorful fireworks that light up your evening.


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Sensory Friendly Summer-Movies
June 27, 2014 11:10 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof

I know that going to the movies is something the boys and I look forward to doing at least a couple times over the summer.  We are lucky that here in Connecticut were we live we have access to both movie theatres and a drive-in movie. I have many happy memories of piling in the family station wagon and going to the drive-in as a child. We never missed any of the Disney films that came out. We would sit with our car turned backwards in the spot, the back door of the wagon open, and watch as we laid on our blankets until we either fell asleep or the double feature was over. If we needed to get up and move, we could either walk around the car or go up the hill to where they had a small simple play ground set up with swings and a slide. Talk about being "sensory friendly" back before it was even a term. 

Sadly there are not very many Drive-in movie theatres left in the world today. According to Drive-ins.com there are only 339 left in the U.S. I've taken my sons to the one here in Mansfield and they've loved it. If you go to the link you can use their search feature to see if there is a driven-in still open near where you live. Some still even have playgrounds for the kids to play on when they need a break!

If there isn't a drive-in near you there are still some wonderful sensory friendly options to see a movie. One of the newest options is to have a backyard movie.  More and more families are opting to have viewing parties at home so their children can get up and move around when they need to. This does require a one-time purchase of a movie projector which can range from $65.00 for a cheap one up, to a couple houndred for an average one, to a couple thousand to a top of the line one. We purchased a $125.00 one several summers ago and have used it numerous times over the past couple of years. 

We've used the side of our house as a screen and also a sheet draped up on a clothes line or up over an over turned picnic table. There is always the option of purchasing an outdoor portable screen if you so desire.  What's nice about having your own projector is that you can use it inside (on the wall or ceiling of a room in your house) on rainy days or outside on nice evenings. You can also view any movie you have in your collection.

Another option that is becoming more and more common is to go to a "sensory friendly" movie being shown by your local movie theater. At these showings the lights are dinned slightly but not completely off, the sound is not as loud, and the children are welcome to get up and stretch their legs if they need to and/or talk or sing or be noisey without upsetting other movie goers around them who might not understand their special challenges.  AMC has a listing of where they offer sensory friendly "get up and dance, walk, shout or sing!" movies. 

 If there is not a AMC theater near by you can do a "google" search for sensory friendly movies near your location or call the local movie theater and ask them if they offer any sensory friendly viewings. More and more movie theaters are offering these showings.  Some offer weekly viewings and others offer a montly viewing. If they aren't offering any viewings ask if you can talk with the manager and ask them if they would be willing to try a sensory free movie viewing. You could be surprised to see how open to the suggestion they may be. It's offering an option for them to open their doors to new viewers who may otherwise not be able to enjoy the movies. Every child should be able to experience the fun of escaping into a movie for a few hours and it's nice to see that the movie theaters are understanding that some children aren't able to sit still while enjoying their movie escape.

Animation offers a medium of story telling and visual entertainment which can bring pleasure and information to people of all ages everywhere in the world.  ~Walt Disney


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Love to Learn
June 13, 2014 2:16 PM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
I love going to workshops and seminars and picking up strategies that I can use in my daily work life. I also love to learn about different diagnosis and why their symptoms present in certain ways and what, if anything, can be done to help individuals with those diagnosis live life to their fullest possible ability. I think that is one of the reasons I'm so excited about going back to college.  I love to learn. I really enjoying talking and networking with other therapists and hearing about what works and what doesn't work for them in their daily therapy practices. I enjoy sharing strategies as well as learning about resources available to us as therapists and to our parent's and families.

Just recently I stumbled upon a really great O.T. group on Facebook. It started off as just a basic O.T. group to share difficult cases, get help, and share resources.  It branched off to a pediatric specific group. The individuals I've encountered on both of these groups have been knowledgable, helpful, and above all friendly and non-judgemental. I enjoy reading the questions regarding difficult cases some therapists are encountering and suggestions that are offered based on the experience of other therapists. I'm quickly filling my notebook of useful strategies and website links that I've learned about from these groups.

Another great resource is our very own Advance for O.T. website. There are links for jobs, articles, blogs, and events. A wealth of information! 

If you need to find a particular seminar or workshop you can go to the AOTA website where you can look for seminars/workshops/continuing education courses to gain the needed CEUs to remain "certified". You can search the databases they have available without even having to join.  Other websites that offer courses/seminars are:

  • Educational Resources, Inc - offering links specific to your field (pediatrics, acute care, neurology, etc). Once you choose a class you might be interestd in you can click on it's link and then learn what the class will offer you and what days/times and locations are available for the class/seminer.

  • Your Therapy Source - offering resources for Early Intervention, school-based, and pediatric out patient therapists. Once you are on their site there is a side bar to the left that offers breakdown areas for fine motor, visual, sensory motor, etc...

  • Rehab Education - offering continuing education courses for professional development and for certification and license renewals. They offer on-site, Webinar, On-Demand online lectures, and On-Line reading courses.

  • Cross Country Education - offering live seminars, webinars, and on-line courses. Also offers videos and books to help gain CEUs.

  • Summit Professional Education - offering live seminars, online webcasts, on demand and home studies in a variety of areas for therapists to gain skills, knowledge, and CEU credits.

These are a few sites that I have book marked so I can stay up-to-date on the courses I might be interested in taking. What are your go to places for seminars and CEUs? Have you recently attended a course/seminar that you were really impressed with? I'd love to hear about them.

Learning never exhausts the mind. Leonardo da Vinci

 


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Timing is Everything
June 9, 2014 9:29 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
When working with children it is important to remember that when doing an activity that is less than desirable to them we should always set a beginning and ending time.  Children often don't understand the concept of time until they are much older.  Younger children have no concept of a minute or an hour.  It's all the same to them so it's important to be able to help them realize how long something may take to encourage them to participate.  If a child has a definite idea of when something is going to begin and end they will be more than likely to take part in that activity.  There are a couple ways this can be done.

Younger children tend to love music so one of the ways to help them get through an undesirable activity is to sing a short song to them while you are doing it.  I will often sing "this is the way we wash our hands (or brush our teeth, or kiss a strawberry, etc.), wash our hands, wash our hands.  This is the way we wash our hands so early in the morning."  The first couple of times you do the activity the child may still want to finish it early so it's important to try and get through the song and then stop.  If you are consistent with this the child will quickly come to learn that the activity begins when the song starts and ends when the song ends.  This is why it is important to have a song you can sing faster in the beginning as you are getting the child to learn this strategy and then be able to slow it down a little as you try to prolong the activity later.  Some songs that work well are "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", "Row, Row, Row Your Boat", and the Alphabet Song.  The Teacher's Guide website has a wonderful list of song lyrics listed alphabetically.  What is really nice is that they not only list the lyrics on the website but they also have links to a downloadable PDF lyric sheet and to a YouTube video of the song being sung!  There is just about every song imaginable on there.  This is a great resource as you can print out the lyrics to give to parents or caregivers to help them follow through on the strategy.

When working with feeding I've found that singing a song while working with a child who may be defensive works really well.  I will start the song as I touch their hand and then move up to their arm, shoulder, cheek, and maybe even chin or lips as I sing the song.  As soon as the song stops, I stop.  This way the child begins to be able to tolerate the input more because they come to realize that it will stop and not go on indefinitely.  Any task is a little more bearable if you know it is going to end.  For young children who have no concept of time a minute can feel like an hour when doing something they don't want to do.  If the task is combined with something like a song that has a definite start and finish it helps them to gain a beginning understanding of the concept of time and be able to tolerate the activity better.

Time outs should also work the same way.  The main concept is taking the child out of the situation and placing them in a safe time out space that is void of anything that would interest them (away from sight of TV, etc.).  The rule of thumb is that a child should be placed in time-out no longer than 1 minute for each year of their life.  So a one year old should not be in time-out for longer than 1 minute, a 2 year old for 2 minutes, etc.  Any longer and the time-out won't work.  Parenting.org has a good time-out resource listing other strategies to make time-outs successful.

For older children we can set an actual time limit as in "we will do this for 5 minutes."  It is always good to combine what you say verbally with a visual aid.  In many cases a simple kitchen time will work or a visual timer that shows the passage of time by a red marking disappearing.  Time tracker has a clock with a red, yellow, green light on top to further help with cuing older children how much time is remaining before the activity ends.  I have also heard that for the older kids a home-made "Time Out Glitter Bottle" can work too.

Do you have a time strategy that you use that's been successful?  Is there a particular timer you like to work with when it comes to timing activities?  I would love to hear about the different types of timers and time awareness strategies others use when working with children.  What have you found that works or doesn't work?


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Back to School
May 27, 2014 9:38 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
 As some of you may recall back in my January 24 blog I was wondering if I should pursue my Master's Degree in O.T.  After a good deal of weighing the pros and cons I have decided to go for it. I signed up for my summer class yesterday which will start on July 26 and continue Saturday mornings until summers end. I will then begin my full time program in October which will run approximately every other weekend with an on-line component for the next 2 years. After which will come my fieldworks.  I am nervous and excited and nervous again.

The Master's program I have enrolled in is through the New England Institute of Technology in Rhode Island.  It's actually a bridge program for COTAs who have their Associates and want to get their Masters.  So essentially I will be getting my Bachelors and Masters in 2.5 years.  Did I also mention I will be working full time in Birth-to-Three, writing part time, helping my 15 year old who has complex learning disabilities be as successful as possible in his sophomore year of high school, as well as be a mum and wife?  I think that's what has always drawn me to Occupational Therapy - it's an occupation that embraces versatility.

I will continue to write but will also be sharing some of the experiences of being an adult returning to school, how the lessons I'm learning can be applied to my daily work life, how well (or not so well) I'm able to juggle all the roles mentioned above, and what direction I may decide to head off to once I graduate.  I love pediatrics but am curious to see what other areas may open up to me once I get my Masters.  I hope you will continue to stay with me as I begin this wonderful and scary journey to becoming an O.T.

In the meantime for others who may be looking to return to get their Masters - here are a few colleges listed on the AOTA website that offer similar COTA to MOT "bridge" programs.  If you are already in a Master's program I would love to hear which one you are in and how you are doing with it.

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Wrights Law Website
May 16, 2014 9:57 AM by Wendy Spoor-Hof
Today I wanted to share a great resource with you.  When I first started to do research looking to find help for my son who has several Executive Function learning disabilities I stumbled upon this website and find myself not only going back to it frequently but sharing it with other families who are looking for help.  That website is http://www.wrightslaw.com/ .

Now don't be confused by the name. Yes, it is a website that shares a great deal of information "law" related when it comes to the special education world but it is so much more than that.  There is a wealth of information and guidance offered to you for free. When you have a few moments please take a look around this website to see all that it has to offer but in the meantime let me share a few pages with you:

The Special Ed Advocate Newsletter - you can subscribe to a free newsletter that shares the latest news and information regarding special education and advocacy issues.

IDEA 2004 - "includes information about IDEA topics such as child find, eligibility, evaluations, reevaluations, high stakes testing, IEPs, IEP teams, IEP meetings, accommodations, alternate assessments, placements, transition, parental rights, and more."

From Emotions to Advocacy - a great page that helps parents, advocates, teachers, therapists how to gain great advocacy skills.  This page offers a wide range of resources.

And my personal favorite page that I go to often to help parents locate advocates, teachers, therapists, tutors, and so much more.  When I needed an advocate to help me when my son was in Middle School - this is where I found his advocate.  I love this page for all it has to offer.

Yellow Pages for Kids - Another "tricky" name because it isn't so much "for kids" as it is for parents to help their kids with finding a good advocate to help them with their PPT meetings, to find good tutors, therapists, etc. 

You can also find training locations and web training programs on the website.  Take a moment and look around.  I would be surprised if you weren't able to find at least one thing that you could use now or go to later for help.

Is there a website that you have found to be particularly helpful?  I would love to hear about it.


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