Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fine Motor on Vacation

Having just got back from the beach (a four hour car ride for us) I look back at how natural it can be to introduce kids to essential motor skills while on vacation!  If you're headed to the ocean try these activities:

  • In the car, try playing small car bingo games with the little doors that slide open and closed, or find books with flaps to open.  Also, using a cookie sheet or tray with a lip can be helpful to position crafts and books.  Try placing a sheet of thick shelf liner or Dycem to help hold things in place.
  • In the hotel or house, bring new foam or interlocking puzzles from the Dollar Store for a quick surprise, sometimes novelty gains attention!  Kids can help fold towels or arrange everyone's shoes for helpful movement and sorting activities.
  • At the beach there are plenty of things to do that help improve motor and dexterity skills!  In the sand, practice using those tools, pinching up sand crabs you find to help place them in wet sand to burrow was one of our favorites this year.  You can find rocks and shells in the ocean to sort into holes you dig or bury your child's hand and tell them to raise out on finger at a time.
  • The ocean provides plenty of sensory input, from walking in different sands (wet and dry), to the sound of the waves, to the rush of the water over their ankles.  Depending on your child's abilities, swimming in, jumping over, diving through, and body boarding with the ocean's waves provide tons of sensory input and heavy work, playing against resistance.
Hope this helps you think of some new ideas next time you get a chance to get away!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Learning letters

Recently, I have had a few parents of kindergarten going kids ask for different ways to teach their kids to recognize letters. I always find that kids, especially little boys, like gross motor activities. So, a few suggestions: play hop scotch with letters, but tell the kids which letter to jump onto (good for numbers, as well). Make paper "targets" with letters on them and have the child throw a ball at them. You can put them on your wall, garage or even on the driveway and have them throw at the letter you state. I recommend focusing on a few letters at a time. Once these are mastered, add some more (maybe 2-3). It's a good idea to teach both upper and lower case letter recognition at the same time. Learning is easier when the kids are having fun!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Play Ball!

Being a nice day today, the preschool class in which I was working decided to go to the playground to play.  I brought a ball outside to throw and roll to the kids to work on their eye-hand coordination and strengthen their arms. Very few of the kids were able to trap a ball thrown slowly at them.  Most of the kids did nto even watch the ball as it was coming at them. In speaking to the teacher and aide, we all agreed that kids these days don't spend enough time outside doing these types of activities.   It is so important that kids get outside for gross motor play!  Catching and throwing a ball works on many skills, including eye-hand coordination, bilateral hand use, sequencing, motor planning and attention.  All kids can benefit from playing with a ball.  Get outside and play ball!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Chalk is fun

Chalk is a fun, outside activity that kids enjoy doing.  Give them a piece of chalk and the driveway and let them be creative!  Have them draw shapes, people, hop scotch, houses, etc.  Practice writing their letters and numbers.  This is a great way to help them learn to write and draw.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Potty Training Tips

OK here's a good topic, one everyone's talking about these days, potty training!  A must and full of trials and tribulations, it's a path many a parent and I have discussed.  This post will cover just the tip of the iceberg and will be meant to get the ball rolling on comments that may help us help each other!  While many of these tips are useful for children of all abilities, some can be especially useful to kids with autism spectrum disorders.  Happy toilet-teering!

Begin at whatever age your child begins to follow you into the bathroom (not everyone enjoys the open door policy, but it can be a teaching moment) or when your child begins to dislike being wet or soiled.  At first, you may see fleeting moments of interest and occasional intermittent voiding in the toilet.  Celebrate these successes, but don't expect the mind and body to connect all at once!

Books and Movies
Media can be helpful, there are a ton out there on the subject.  My top favs of each are the Once Upon a Potty book (two versions are available, one for girls, one for boys) and the Bear in the Big Blue House DVD 'Potty Time with Bear'.  It has 3 episodes dealing with the subject.  Both my sons loved these.  Social stories specifically geared towards issues like fear of the toilet or toilet flush, can be particularly useful.  Make your own with personalized words and pictures, talk to your OT.

One of the first things you might try is a doll that wets after you give it some water.  There are a bunch of dolls out there as well, they can be both anatomically correct and pricey.  Honestly, a cheaper version that is not necessarily anatomically correct does the job just fine.  Play with it a lot.

With children who have speech delays, sometimes a motor action or picture card will do the trick.  Teach him the sign for potty (put your thumb up through your index finger and middle finger with your hand fisted and rotate your forearm back and forth - like the Miss America wave) or use a PECS card.  PECS stands for Picture Exchange Communication System and consists of small laminated cards that are usually used on a velcro strip.  Print out a bunch of picture cards and make them available throughout the house.  Sometimes with the additional easy motor action kids will be able to communicate quickly and effective enough to be successful.  At first they may rely on the card, but just reinforce talking with the use of the card and eventually they will begin to use the word as well, or replace the card completely with the word.

Visual Schedules
If your child is a visual learner, often kids on the autism spectrum are, try using a picture schedule (sequence strip) for the routine.  Visuals can help any child organize the activity!  First add the potty into your child's daily schedule at particular times, i.e. morning, evening, and anytime you're going to leave the house.  In the beginning, you may want to up the opportunities to as many as once per hour.  Also put up a mini-schedule right near the potty that shows pictures of the steps such as:

  1. Pants Down
  2. Sit on Potty
  3. Toilet Paper
  4. Flush
  5. Pants Up
  6. Wash Hands

Over at the sink, you could place one for the hand washing or tooth brushing routines.  One of my favorite sites on the web for picture schedules is

Behavior Reward System
While potty training can exist without the use of these, some children who respond well to positive reinforcement for behaviors, or who are in ABA programming, need consistent motivation in a predictable manner.  First kind of chart would be a piece of the puzzle kind of thing that included a box that says "I am working for".  You can velcro a picture of whatever it is (a toy, trip to McDonald's, hugs and kisses, extra book at bedtime, whatever) in that box.  It helps if this chart is in picture form.  One of my favorite ways is to have an outline of a train.  Each time the child uses the potty he earns a train car, when the train is complete he earns what's in the box.  This kind of chart is good to begin with, I would start with no more than 5 train cars.

Once you have that down and you feel your child is ready for more, you can go to a grid chart.  Each step of the potty routine is pictured above the top row.  Each time he completes a step independently he gets to put a sticker or mark in the grid under that step.  You decide how frequently you want to reward - whether they have to complete X number of rows or columns or fill in the whole grid.  You can use stickers, stamps, velcro PECS, whatever motivates your child.

Diapers or Training Pants or Underwear?
I'm a big fan of real underwear.  When children are in diapers or disposable training pants they do nothing to allow the child to feel the discomfort of being wet, unless they're really really wet.  With both my boys I found that when they were in either, they would freely pee and poop in it.  In fact, with one of them, the first time he initiated peeing on his potty was when we left him naked with a t-shirt while we were camping.  You saw that look on his face when he had to go like, "where do I PUT this?"  We told him quickly, "Find your potty!"  By the end of the weekend he had peeing down.  Pooping took a little longer.  We found that keeping both boys in underwear increased their independent trials of the potty.

If you're in a pinch and/or don't want to have a mess when you're out, try putting on a pull-up over the underwear.  Kids with sensory issues can have big issues with underwear.  Some prefer the traditional character underwear, but for some the tight waistband can drive them nuts.  Some kids are more comfortable in boxers or even the old school padded cotton Gerber training pants.  Don't stress about using disposable training pants overnight or when you're going to be out for a long time.  A combination of disposable pants and underwear will not hurt.  And eventually you will find that the disposable pants will be dry too!

As you can see, there are a lot of things you can try to help your child become successful using the potty.  Don't let anyone tell you you child cannot be trained.  Some kids may take much longer than others, but it is worth trying.  It is a major life skill that will help them be integrated into school and society!