Keep Calm and Messy Play On!

Ever wonder why most of us have a baby photo with food all over our hands and faces? An important part of processing our world is through touch, even from a young age. Our sense of touch gives us information about our environment and the characteristics of our surroundings. We are able to determine if something is hot, cold, sticky, dry, soft, smooth, and so on! Messy play is a vital part of child development as our touch processing feeds into our skills such as motor planning, body awareness, visual-motor skills, fine motor skills, and more. At the moment with our schools and businesses closed many of us may be stuck indoors as we quarantine at home. While our current focus might be keeping our hands and homes clean, we can find ways to continue promoting our tactile sensory processing and get messy safely!

Our sensory processing abilities determine how we respond to tactile input. Your child may demonstrate sensitivity or avoidance to tactile input, such as withdrawing their hands when they get messy or splaying their fingers outward when they engage with wet textures. Maybe your child craves tactile input and you have a hard time keeping their hands clean or to themselves. Either way, incorporating messy play or multi-sensory experiences into their day can help them learn to process and respond to tactile input in order to better participate in grooming, meal time, bath time, and other daily routines!

Sensory Materials from Home:

You can always try to repurpose materials that you already have in your home to promote messy play. Try filling up a plastic bin at home with any of the following. You can switch out the material weekly to continue providing a range of tactile sensory experiences.

  • Cotton balls or pom poms
  • Feathers
  • Dried foods: pasta, rice, beans, oats, corn, seeds, coffee beans
  • Wet media: shaving cream, frosting, whipped cream
  • Slime, Gak, Flarp
  • Kinetic sand
  • Beach sand
  • Potting soil
  • Beads
  • Small rocks
  • Shredded paper
  • Water with ice cubes
  • Packing peanuts

Messy Play Activities at Home:

  • Have your child help you cook or bake
    • Roll dough, wash vegetables, mix batter
  • Art
    • Finger paint! Paint your child’s hand and make hand prints on paper
    • If your child has a hard time using their fingers use cotton balls, Q-tip, or a paint brush
    • Use halved apples, peppers, or celery to make vegetable stamps with paint
  • Homemade PlayDoh
    • Add essential oils for a multi-sensory experience
  • Hide puzzles or activities inside of a sensory bin
  • Make a mess with shaving cream in the tub during bath time
  • Practice letter formation in wet messy play such as whipped cream
  • Have your child help you garden by planting seeds or flowers in soil
  • Have your child wash their toys in soapy water
  • Hide beads inside of Theraputty or PlayDoh
  • Play barefoot in grass or sand
  • Blow bubbles and encourage your child to pop them with their fingers or toes
  • Make spaghetti or pasta and color with food coloring for edible messy play
  • Make clough dough or moon sand at home
  • Make homemade gak or slime
  • Go on a nature hunt and collect leaves, sticks, rocks for a nature sensory bin

Make messy play part of your child’s daily routine by adding it to their sensory diet activities or designating a day for messy food play at meal time. Increasing your child’s experience with messy play will help them learn how to process and respond to tactile input and tolerate a variety of textures and materials. It can also be a motivating way to engage children when you are stuck indoors.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s responses to tactile or sensory input, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Robyn Geist, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Photo Credit: JBryson via istockphoto.com

A Set Routine + Family Meals = First Steps to Mealtime Success

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mealtime can be stressful, often with your child challenging your attempts to have them try new foods. Some days, your child may not go to the table or sit in their chair long enough to even offer new foods! However, establishing a set routine and regular meals may be the first steps to mealtime success.

What can a mealtime routine look like?

Why is mealtime so challenging for my child? And why is a routine and family meals so important?

Eating is one of the most challenging sensory activities for children. When we eat, all eight senses are working and integrating eight new pieces of information. The properties of the food change as we eat, for instance, as part of our five senses, the taste and smell changes as we chew. Additionally, our sense for self-movement and body position is working to use different amounts of jaw pressure. Our sense for balance and spatial orientation is working to re-adjust our balance as we chew. Lastly, our sense of the internal state of the body is being put to the test by requiring that we track the changes to our stretch receptors (on the stomach) to the changes to our appetite. Processing each of those sensory changes can be and is difficult for many children. Furthermore, eating is a multisensory experience; therefore, we need to help children’s sensory systems to be regulated before, during, and after meals to increase their feeding skills and sensory tolerance for new foods.

What can I do?

If your child is demonstrating some behaviors before or during mealtime and/or is a picky eater/problem feeder, consider contacting one of our speech-language pathologist or occupational therapists, who can provide your family with helpful tips and tricks to make mealtime less stressful and more fun!

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s mealtime routine or feeding skills, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Jaclyn Donahue MS, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Reference: Toomey, Kay A.. 2008/2010. Family Meals.

Kay A. Toomey, Ph.D. & Lindsay Beckerman, OTR/L., 2016. Explanation of The Role of Sensory Therapy In Advancing Feeding Goas.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Murray and amsw photography via pexels.com

Why OT?: Destigmatizing the Need for Therapy

“Why was my child recommended for occupational therapy, they don’t have a job!” You might have many questions if your child has completed an occupational therapy evaluation and was recommended to receive occupational therapy services. What does this mean, exactly?

What is occupational therapy?

The term “occupational” does not refer to one’s employment, in this instance. Occupationscan be defined as activities that support the health, well-being, and development of an individual (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2014). An occupational therapist’s job is to increase the engagement and participation in meaningful daily activities that support your child’s learning, growing, and most of all, fun! There are a wide variety of circumstances that may affect your child’s optimal engagement in day-to-day activities at home, at school, or in the community.

How is occupational therapy going to help my child?

The benefit of occupational therapy is that practitioners are equipped for focusing therapy on a widevariety of skills required in your child’s daily life, such as:

  • Fine motor skills
    • Your child uses fine motor skills to write their name on their school work and to tie their shoes before heading out to play!
  • Visual motor skills
    • Your child utilizes visual motor skills when playing catch in the park and to copy written work from the chalkboard in the classroom.
  • Self-help skills
    • Self-help skills help get your child out the door in the morning! Your child needs to eat, get dressed, and use the bathroom to start their day.
  • Gross motor skills
    • Gross motor skills are required to walk to the front door and down the stairs safely to begin your child’s commute to school.
  • Sensory processing and regulation
    • Your child’s body is constantly processing sensory information in their environment to attend to and enjoy their world.
  • Executive functioning skills
    • When recalling the steps of their favorite family board game and following their teacher’s instructions, they are using their executive functioning skills, i.e., working memory, sequencing, and problem solving.
  • Social interaction skills
    • Your child utilizes their social interaction skills to make new friends and keep familiar ones.

What does it mean if my child was recommended occupational therapy?

Receiving a recommendation for therapy can be difficult and may bring about many questions and concerns regarding your child. Common concerns after receiving a recommendation for your child to receive therapy are “Will my child be singled-out from their peers?” or “Will my child always need therapy?”  When your child receives a recommendation for therapy, it does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong. A recommendation for occupational therapy does mean that a trained therapist has noted suspected concerns that warrant further evaluation. As an occupational therapist, many times I am asked, “Do you work with children with disabilities?” and my answer is, “Yes I do, but not exclusively!” Just as pediatric occupational therapists work on a wide variety of skills, we also work with a wide variety within the pediatric population. An occupational therapist will utilize a holistic approach to empower your child and your family so they can live their life to the fullest in their daily routines, school activities, and excitement within the community.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s engagement in meaningful daily activities, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Reagan Lockwood, MOT, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Reference: American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain & process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(Suppl. 1), S1–S48. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.682006

Photo Credit: Photo by Thiago Cerqueira on Unsplash

Boom, Bang, Chirp: the Sounds of Summer and the Auditory System

Summertime is filled with distinct noises, like that of a fire engine in the Fourth of July parade, fireworks exploding in the sky, or the steady hum of crickets chirping in the yard. For some children, these sounds can be quite stressful. Like the other sensory systems (touch, taste, smell, sight, etc), your child’s sense of hearing, or their auditory system, takes in information, processes it, and produces an external response. Sometimes, this information isn’t processed correctly. In these cases, your child may demonstrate hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to sound, and those fun summertime activities become a source of anxiety for your little one.

What is hypersensitivity?
If your child seems to overreact to everyday sounds or seems easily distracted by noise that you are able to tune out, she is demonstrating auditory hypersensitivity. Your child may experience an intense fear of mechanical items with “whirring” sounds, such as vacuum cleaners, hand dryers or flushing toilets in public restrooms, blender, hairdryer, and coffee grinder. She may overreact to unexpected sounds by covering her ears or crying. She may seem to be overly tuned in to background noise in the environment, such as the fan spinning or the clock ticking.

What is hyposensitivity?
If your child seems to enjoy loud noises in his environment, demonstrates difficulty figuring out where a sound is coming from (localizing), and/or has difficulty figuring out what a sound is (distinguishing), he is demonstrating auditory hyposensitivity. Your child may constantly create noises with his mouth throughout the day. He may prefer to keep the television very loud, but become upset when others speak loudly. He may have difficulty hearing and responding when his name is called, especially from another room.

What causes these kinds of sensory auditory dysfunction?
The stapedius is a middle ear muscle that contracts in response to loud noise in order to protect the small hair follicles on our inner ears. Scientists say that sensory-based auditory issues may be due to a poorly-functioning stapedius. The middle and inner ear muscle systems are also important in the function of other sensory structures, such as the vestibular system – which determines your child’s equilibrium and balance.

What can I do?
If your child is demonstrating some of the behaviors above, consider contacting one of our occupational therapists, who can provide your family with helpful tips and tricks to minimize distraction, utilize noise-cancelling items, work through difficult school-based tasks, and more! If your child is demonstrating difficulty with language interpretation, difficulty learning to read, and/or a speech delay that are accompanied with the symptoms listed above, he may be experiencing Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). APD is dysfunction in the brain’s ability to translate sounds. An audiologist can help identify the issue and provide suggestions for next steps.

Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s responses to noise, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Jen Brown, MS, OTR/L
Director of Occupational Therapy Services

Reference: Dodd, George. (2002). Distinguishing sound from noise- the significance of attention and noise sensitivity. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 112, 2243. 25 October 2002. https://doi.org/10.1121/1.4778910

DO NOT TOUCH: Tactile Sensory Exploration

Messy play is an essential part of child development. Our sense of touch, or tactile processing, sends information to our brain about the properties of objects in our environment. Our tactile sense provides vital information skills such as body awareness, academic learning, motor planning, visual discrimination, and social skills. Children can discover and learn more about their world using their hands and feet, which can sometimes lead to getting dirty!

Your child may experience sensory over-responsivity, or observable behavior involving a quick or intense response to a sensory experience that others usually perceive as nonthreatening. This could include becoming upset during activities such as nail clipping, haircuts, bathing, and/or eating. When your child experiences sensory over-responsivity on their feet, you might have noticed them avoiding going barefoot in sand or grass. Helping integrate additional sensory-rich experiences into your child’s life can lead to more engagement and enjoyment with feeding, bathing, and most importantly, play!

Activities to encourage tactile sensory play with hands and feet:

Bubbles: simply having your child popping bubbles is a sensory experience for their hands (and feet!). To incorporate messy play with their feet, you can have your child “wait” until the bubbles hit the ground, and have them pop them by stepping or stomping onto them! This is a great warm-up activity to lead into more sensory-rich play experiences.

Sensory Bins: filling an empty storage bin with objects such as sand or dry beans and placing small toys inside to dig for and interact with provides a fun tactile sensory experience. For an additional sensory experience with the olfactory system, or smell, fill a sensory bin with coffee beans!

Finger Painting: Take away the paintbrushes and bring on the mess! Incorporate various textures into the paint, such as mixing sand into it. Allow your child to create pictures from both their hand and foot prints for an even sensory-filled experience!

Mess-Free Painting: for a tactile experience without the mess, all you will need is a large plastic bag, paint, and masking tape. Place a few drops of paint (multiple colors for a rainbow effect!) inside of the plastic bag and ensure it is sealed. Tape the plastic bag with paint onto a window and allow your child to use their finger to form shapes and pictures on the bag.

If your child dislikes washing their hands and/or dislikes bathing, you can try the following activities:

Wash Station: create a “wash station” in a Tupperware container, small storage bin, or even your sink for a car wash or pet wash with soapy water. This is a great tactile sensory activity for children who don’t enjoy the suds during bath time. Introducing the soapy on a smaller scale (and embedded in play!) will allow them to become more comfortable with the sensory experience.

Shaving Cream: This can be used on a table top or even in the bathtub to contain the mess and with both hands and feet! You can belt out Frozen and build a “snow man” with your child using the shaving cream. Additional Bonus: If you are also working on handwriting or letter formation, you can take off the pressure with pen and paper and practice in the shaving cream!

Water Painting: You can simply give your child a bowl of water and a paintbrush to paint the sidewalk, the fence, and better yet, their body. This activity incorporates the tactile sensory play with water and the feeling of the paintbrush on their skin.

If your child dislikes going to the beach and/or playing in the sandbox you can try the following activities:

Kinetic Sand: Kinetic Sand is available in many themes and variations that may interest your child such as, Frozen, glitter sand, construction zone with trucks, dinosaur fossils, and more! Kinetic Sand has a texture that nearly feels “wet” to the touch; however, it is not and is easily moldable. This is a great activity to incorporate the feet as well, such as making footprints in the sand!

Sugar Castles: using brown sugar is a sweet way to introduce the rough texture of sand! Incorporate measuring cups and popsicle sticks to build sugar castles. This is also a good opportunity to introduce feet into play if your child does not like to walk in the sand at the beach or in a sandbox.

Tips:
1. Start Small: introducing these experiences might be overwhelming, so starting in small amounts can make your child more comfortable to interact with them.
2. Get Out: taking these activities outdoors can alleviate any worries about making a mess inside the home in addition to experience the sensory-rich outdoors!
3. Bring Friends: If your child has a preferred stuffed animal or toy that also has hands and feet, have them tag along! Allowing your child to immerse their preferred toy into sensory play they might initially be hesitant about can be encouraging for them.
4. Join in On the Fun: There is nothing more encouraging or entertaining than your child seeing their caregiver act like a child themselves! Modeling the very play you wish for your child to engage in can be enticing enough for them to participate!

Reagan Lockwood, MOT, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

Reference: Kranowitz, Carol Stock. (2005). The out-of-sync child: recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder. New York: A Skylight Press Book/A Perigee Book.

Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon via Pexels

Vestibular Sensitivities: When Car Rides, Swings, Slides, and Strollers Are a Struggle

What is the vestibular system?

The vestibular system refers to the nervous system’s mechanisms for registering and interpreting movement and relation to gravity. Structures in the inner ear (including hairs, crystals, fluids, and small organs) receive information about movement and balance to send to our brains to help us understand our relationship with gravity. The vestibular system is our body’s primary way to organize sensory information, so abnormalities in how we integrate this information can affect how we perceive information from all our other senses. Some children can’t get enough vestibular input, and actively seek out jumping, climbing, and swinging. Other children are hypersensitive to vestibular input and may become irritable, scared, or avoidant with simple activities such as being laid down for a diaper change or lifted in the air. For hypersensitive children, small amounts of movement may feel as exaggerated as riding a rollercoaster.

In severe cases, children with vestibular hypersensitivities may experience gravitational insecurity, characterized by emotional responses movements which are extremely disproportionate to a realistic possibility of falling. These children may avoid physical tasks, try to keep their feet on the ground, and become extremely upset with unexpected movements. Due to their unreliable relationship with gravity, their brains are wired to perform protective responses against the danger they perceive. These children may try to flee the situation, freeze and shut down, or fight and tantrum until the perceived danger subsides.

Children with vestibular sensitivities often have trouble tolerating the following activities:

  • Car Rides:In a moving car, your child’s eyes (and inner ears) send messages to his or her brain that imply a moving body. However, feedback from the proprioceptive (body in space) system tells the child that he or she is sitting still. This disagreement between the sensory systems can cause children to feel uncomfortable, dizzy, or motion sick. Try “dimming” the intensity of the visual input to the brain by having the child wear sunglasses in the car, helping the vestibular system feel more at ease. If your child’s feet dangle from the car seat, try building up the floor of the car with heavy books or a foot stool. Having the feet planted on the floor provides feedback to the child’s brain that he or she is grounded to one spot. Using a weighted lap pad or blanket in the car can additionally provide calming sensory feedback to the nervous system. Be sure to take plenty of breaks to stretch, move, and feel the feet on firm ground during longer car rides!
  • Stoller Rides: Hairs and fluids in the structure of the inner ear shift position with acceleration and deceleration, which provides intense vestibular stimulation. This starting and stopping is typical of stroller rides. However, the inner ear fluid stabilizes when speed is maintained. Initially, try pushing your child’s stroller at an even and steady pace, minimizing the number of times you start and stop moving. As your child becomes more accepting, try slowly increasing the number of gentle starts and stops per ride to build tolerance for vestibular changes.
  • Playing on Swings: Swinging provides changes in head position that create a variety of intense vestibular input to the inner ear structures. Children who are unable to tolerate swinging may feel left out or lonely at the park. Start by watching videos and reading books where children are enjoying swings, pointing out that swings can be fun! Feel free to sit on the swing and demonstrate gently swinging at the park. Never force your child on a swing. Instead, gently encourage the child to explore the swings with your emotional support. Going to the park at a low-traffic time may help your child feel more comfortable. Start with swings that are low to the ground and encourage your child to sit on the swing using his or her own feet to walk forwards or backwards any amount. Provide plenty of positive feedback as they try new and more brave explorations. Share your pride in the child’s success, but try not to exaggerate reactions of fear or surprise if he or she tries something unexpected.
  • Playing on Slides: For children with vestibular sensitivities, the mere thought of going to the park or using the slides can be anxiety provoking. You can ask your child’s OT to create a personalized story about going to the park, so your child knows what sensory experiences to expect. Start simple! Encourage your child just to be in the presence of a slide. Next, you can encourage the child to touch it by placing a preferred toy on the slide. Start exploring small “baby” slides before attempting big, bumpy, or spiral slides. Eventually, you and your child can sit on the slide together before sliding just a few inches to the bottom. Make sure these experiences are pleasant and reward baby steps with plenty of praise!

Natalie Machado, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist

References:

Biel, L., & Peske, N. (2009). Raising a sensory smart child: The definitive handbook for helping your child with sensory processing issues. London, England: Penguin Books, Ltd.

Photo credit: Sarah Pflug via burst.shopify.com

Why Messy Eating Is a Good Thing for Babies and Toddlers

Do you fear letting your baby get messy? Can’t stand the sight of food in their hair or on the floor and dread the work that it means for you afterwards? You are not alone! Lots of parents have a really hard time allowing their baby to be a complete and total mess while eating. But did you know that this mess is more than just a headache for you later on? It is actually a critical learning experience for your little one! So next time you cringe at the sight of your toddler flinging applesauce across the room or your baby dropping yet another yogurt-covered spoon on the floor, remember that you are helping their development.

Below is a list of reasons why you should let your little one get messy while eating.

Messy eating…

  1. Provides important sensory experiences
    • Messy eating is a form of sensory play! It is an opportunity for your little one’s brain to receive feedback from their food regarding different textures, temperatures, colors, quantities and the difference between solid and non-solid foods. This sensory play promotes exploration and helps build a positive environment around their food.
  2. Leads to greater acceptance of foods
    • Once children are familiar and comfortable with the sensory information of their food, they are more willing to eat it. Sensory play and exploration helps kids overcome their fear of new textures and flavors and results in eating a more diverse diet.
  3. Promotes appropriate self-feeding skills
    • Allowing your little one to explore their food builds confidence and promotes independent eating.
  4. Develops fine motor skills
    • Self-feeding involves pinching, picking-up, reaching, holding a spoon and a number of find motor skills that your kiddo may be missing out on if you are always the one in control of the food container and spoon.

Tips to help the messy eating routine:

  1. Prepare for a mess by feeding your baby or toddler in a room with hard, easy to clean surfaces (i.e. tile, wood) and avoiding carpeted areas. Use placemats, floormats or even lay a towel or sheet down under the highchair.
  2. Ditch the nice clothes and opt for an old t-shit or onesie instead. You can even let your little one eat in only their diaper to avoid excess laundry! As long as it is a comfortable temperature in your house, your baby will not be too cold and it will save you a lot of time and hassle.
  3. Embrace the messy eating. Remind yourself that this GOOD and fun! Enjoy these moments and capture one of those classic-baby-moment pictures.

Kelly Fridholm, MCD, CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

Additional resources/related articles:

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-food-fears-children/playing-with-food-may-help-preschoolers-become-less-picky-eaters-idUSKBN0O41MD20150519

Picture: Shutterstock

Eating Habits- Picky or Problematic?

Is my child simply a picky eater? Or should I be more concerned?

Many children go through a phase of picky eating, some longer than others, that is not usually cause for concern. Some days it seems impossible to get them to eat anything other than goldfish or cake pops, and vegetables aren’t even up for discussion! However, some children demonstrate behaviors that may indicate a feeding problem or disorder. These difficulties may present as sensory challenges, such as only eating brown, crunchy foods, or as oral-motor challenges, such as excessive drooling or food falling out of their mouth while eating.

The following is a list of red flags that may tell you if your child would benefit from the support of a feeding specialist:

Children develop feeding challenges as a result of negative associations with eating. These associations may be caused by various medical or sensory complications, such as sensory processing disorder, food allergies, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or motor-planning disorders.

If you have concerns about your child’s feeding skills, consult with your pediatrician and an occupational therapist or a speech-language pathologist to help you determine if your child may need additional feeding support.

Autumn Smith, MS, CCC-SLP
Director of Speech-Language Services