Why not to push handwriting for kids

handwriting, preschool, school, writing, visual motor, graphomotor, OT, Miss Jaime OT

Pushing kids into writing before they are developmentally ready happens to be one of my pet peeves. (I actually have quite a few of them, you can read all about them here. )

Experience has shown me is that children should NOT be pushed into handwriting before they’re ready. So many kids are entering Kindergarten without the basic pre-writing skills they need. Yet the Kindergarten curriculum expects them to be writing right away!

Before handwriting, children need to master pre-writing skills

Pre-writing skills are the lines, shapes, and strokes kids need to master and know before learning how to print the alphabet. They develop from 1 year to 5 years old.

Pre-writing skills ARE important.

Kids need to learn and master pre-writing lines, strokes, and shapes and strengthen their fine
motor skills before learning how to form the letters of their name or the alphabet.

Prewriting Milestones

1-2 years old:

A baby is typically scribbling and learning to make marks on a paper. They are probably holding a crayon or marker with their whole hand. This is called a palmar supinate grasp.

As they develop more control, the next step is to imitate. Maybe you make a line or shape and
then your child imitates that same line or shape.

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My Favorite Parts of #AOTA19

Last week was a complete whirlwind – whew.   I’m finally getting settled at home,  but I wanted to share my highlights of the American Occupational Therapy Association conference in New Orleans, LA.

  1. Reuniting with old friends from across the country and making new ones!

    Every year, two of my girlfriends from Utica College and I attend the conference together, and it feels like we are right back in college.  This year, I also got to hang out with my friend and fellow OT blogger Colleen Beck (From the OT Toolbox) and two other admins of my USA School Based OTs Looking for Change group (Serena Zeidler and Joan Sauvigne-Kirsch).  We had so much fun and definitely had some major brainstorming over the last few days.  It’s amazing what a bunch of OT brains can come up with!   I also attended the AOTA reception for the Communities of Practice. I’m in the state leadership group, so I had the chance to mingle with all the ladies I work with all year long.

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An “Old O.T.’s” Advice for other “School O.T.s”

Forward from Miss Jaime, O.T.:  When I first graduated from OT school, I got a job working as a contract therapist in a public school.  I had no supervisor, no mentor, and no one to ask questions.

Thank goodness, I ended up placed in a school with such a large caseload that there was also another (more experienced) OT.   She took me under her wing and offered me informal mentorship and much invaluable advice as a colleague and friend.

I left that agency very soon to get a district job, but I am forever grateful to my first mentor, Diane Fine, Occupational Therapy Extraordinaire.  Twenty years later, Diane still works for that agency in that building and has generously offered to share her experiences and advice to new school OTs in the field. Continue reading

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Miss Jaime, O.T.’s Favorite Sensory Gifts 2018!

Sensory kids can be tricky. 

Different kids can like or dislike different sensations.  I like to recommend weighted things because I find that they can be calming and grounding for children who are sensory seeking, anxious, impulsive, or hyperactive. They can also be used as “heavy work” for kids who need to “wake up” or get moving.

Picking out a gift can be so frustrating.

This year I thought I’d make a quick list of my top favorite NEW sensory toys – ones that are unique and probably not already in your child’s toy box.

Affiliate links have been included for your convenience.

A Weighted Teddy Bear

This weighted teddy bear is too adorable.  It looks like a typical toy but provides a weighted sensation which can be comforting.  Check it out!

 

 

A Weighted Cap

This weighted cap is so cool! I love that it looks just like a regular hat, but it is weighted to provide extra input to the head.  Such a brilliant idea! Learn more here.

 

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The All In One Magic Magnetized Shoe-Tying Miracle

“How am I supposed to teach him to tie his shoes?”
The Occupational Therapy student’s cheeks were pink.  A concerned look creased her face.

Self-doubt was creeping in. I understood.

Sometimes you get a child on your caseload that seems to have a lot of obstacles to face, just to live a normal independent life.

This little boy was no exception.  Charlie was born with amniotic banding, a rare condition caused by fibrous strands of the amniotic sac entangling the limbs or other parts of the body, which can cause deformities in utero.  In Charlie’s case, he was born without his left hand.

How do you teach bilateral skills like cutting, buttoning, and tying to a child with only one hand?  

You adapt.   And you teach them to adapt.  There’s always a way.

    • Every child deserves to live a full and happy life.
    • They deserve to be independent.
    • And they deserve to accomplish typical milestones, such as tying their shoes for the first time.

I love to use adaptive tools to make these mountainous challenges just a bit easier for my little guys.    So I was super excited to tell my OT student about Zubits.

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For the Hardworking Therapists Who Work With Children with Special Needs

therapist guilt, fine motor skills, primitive reflexes

I’m sure you’ve heard of Mom guilt, Daughter Guilt, and Irish Guilt, but have you ever heard of Therapist Guilt?

I may have invented it…

You’ve probably read letters and blog posts written toward the parents of children with special needs; talking about how strong they are and how hard they work to help their children.

It’s true.  But many of those selfless parents still have “The Guilts”.

WHAT ARE “THE GUILTS”?

When you have “the guilts”,  there is always something you feel guilty about.   It could be about not having a spic-n-span house, not being able to go to loud family events, or losing your patience with a child with special needs.  The guilt is always there.

It’s often there for therapists, too.

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Toileting and Sensory Processing

toileting, potty training, pooping, teaching to poop, poop in potty, poop and sensory issues

Potty-training can be a challenge for parents, but it’s also an important part childhood development. The normal struggle can be even more difficult when there are sensory processing issues. Recognizing that they need to go, wearing big girl or big boy underwear, and being able to use different toilets can all be impacted by sensory processing.

Why does Sensory processing matter?

Toileting requires a significant amount of body awareness.  Children have to understand how their body is feeling, learn how to release their bowel and bladder muscles in order to go, and feel that they have “finished” and their bowel or bladder is now empty.  

Sensory processing is a natural part of the toileting process. 

A bathroom environment can be overstimulating to start with.   We receive sensory information from our eyes, ears, skin, muscles, and joints and our brain’s job is to organize the information, select the important parts, and disregard the rest. When a child’s sensory systems are functioning appropriately,  they are able to participate in activities of daily living such as potty-training.  However, if the sensory systems are not integrated properly, toileting can become problematic.  

Everything parents Need to know

  1. WHAT IS SENSORY PROCESSING?
  2. HOW SENSORY SYSTEMS RELATE TO TOILETING
  3. BODY AWARENESS NEEDED FOR TOILET TRAINING
  4. PROBLEMS
    1. POOR INTEROCEPTION
    2. SENSORY DEFENSIVENESS
    3. POOR REGISTRATION OF SENSORY INPUT
    4. SENSORY SEEKING
    5. SENSORY AVOIDING
  5. HOW TO HELP: 15 AMAZING STRATEGIES FOR TOILETING
  6. CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS

what is Sensory Processing?

Sensory Processing refers to how the nervous system detects, regulates, interprets and responds to sensory information.  Sensory Processing is an important factor in considering a child’s attention, memory, behavior, and function (Ahn, Miller, Milberger, & McIntosh, 2004; Gardner &Johnson, 2013).   A child’s brain needs to be able to register sensory information from the environment and react appropriately to it.  If a child has difficulty regulating and processing sensory information, they may have Sensory Processing Disorder.

Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological disorder in which the sensory information that a child perceives results in abnormal responses.   Children who have difficulty processing sensory information often have inconsistent responses because they have a hard time discriminating between which sensory information is important and which can be ignored.  

It is important to note that many children (and adults for that matter) have difficulty with processing certain types of sensory input.  Typical things such as disliking certain smells or textures, feeling seasick on rides, or preferring certain foods do not necessarily mean that a child has sensory processing disorder. They may simply still be learning to process certain sensory stimuli.

toilet training, potty training, toileting readiness, developmental checklists

There are eight  sensory systems in our bodies:

  1. Tactile System (touch)
  2. Vestibular System (balance)
  3. Proprioceptive System (position in space)
  4. Olfactory System (smell)
  5. Visual System (sight)
  6. Auditory System (hearing)
  7. Gustatory System (taste)
  8. Interoceptive System (internal body awareness)

Interoception is our ability to sense what is going on inside our bodies internally.  It includes sensations such as thirst, hunger, fatigue, pain, breath, itchiness, nausea, temperature, etc.  It also includes our sense of if we have a full bladder or bowel, and if we have “released” it. (Garland, 2014).

An Explanation of the Sensory Systems related to Toileting

The proprioceptive, vestibular, and touch senses are primary influences on the integration of our senses.  The interoceptive sense also plays a crucial role in developing the foundational body awareness needed to function as a child.

When a child is unable to integrate and react to sensory information appropriately, the child will not interact with his environment in a functional manner.  He may have exaggerated responses to typical noises or sensations or withdraw from certain stimuli. The child cannot consistently process sensory information, so their responses will be inconsistent, too.

If the child has decreased body awareness, they may demonstrate an inefficient grading of force or movement.  For a boy, this may mean they have difficulty using the right amount of force when holding or aiming the penis.  This might result in a child pressing so hard that it’s difficult to pee,  holding too tightly, or having difficulty holding steady.

Our vestibular system helps us to maintain our balance. The fluid in our inner ear moves as our head moves, sending messages to our brain about where our body is in space (Abraham, 2002).   Some children with vestibular dysfunction present with “gravitational insecurity“, which makes them seek a secure position during activities. They may dislike swings, being picked up, or participating in activities in which they are not in control of their body in space.  These children might be fearful when attempting to sit on a “grown-up” toilet where their bottom is unsupported because they feel like they may fall.

Children with vestibular, tactile, and proprioception difficulties may have difficulty with eye-hand coordination and depth perception. It may be difficult for them to aim appropriately or estimate where to stand.

Many children with sensory processing difficulties have auditory sensitivities that interfere with toilet training.  Think of the loud echoes, flushing toilet, the hand dryers, etc.  Noises that are simply loud to an adult can be piercing to a child with auditory sensitivities.

Tactile sensitivities can interfere with toileting, too! Children may dislike the sensation of pooping, wiping, or even sitting on a hard seat.   If they are under-responsive to touch, they may not realize that they aren’t covering their hand properly with the toilet paper, they aren’t wiping well enough to clean themselves, or that they’ve soiled their clothing.

potty training, #functinalskillsforkids

Sensory Processing and Body Awareness needed for Toilet Training

When our body is able to receive and interpret the signals from our skin, muscles, and joints, we are able to feel and know what our body is doing without looking at it.  When a child has poor body awareness, it can lead to difficulty coordinating their body to do all of the components that are involved in toileting.   It is not automatic to feel the urge to go and just go to the bathroom.  Each step of the task must be thought out and carefully performed, so it is important to be patient.  It’s hard to know what to do if you can’t feel what you are supposed to feel!

Typically, toddlers and preschoolers spend a lot of time learning the “ins and outs” of toileting.   Children are expected to be toileting independently before entering Kindergarten.  Children with difficulties modulating sensory input find potty training to be a much bigger challenge than a typical child.  The bathroom can be an overstimulating environment, so asking a child with sensory integration difficulties to focus on the task at hand (ie; peeing or pooping) is a challenge if they are overwhelmed with fear or anxiety about other sensory signals they are receiving.  Problems with toileting and sensory processing might include (but not be limited to) the following:

Toileting and Sensory Processing Problems

1. Toileting and Sensory Processing Related to Poor Interoception

  • May be unaware that his bowel or bladder is full.
  • Feels that they need to go, but not be able to discriminate whether they need to urinate OR have a bowel movement.
  • Unable to “push” in order to go; don’t understand how to make those muscles work
  • Cannot feel that they have had an accident or that their clothes are soiled.
  • Unable to bend and reach behind them to properly wipe

2. Toileting and Sensory Processing Related to Sensory Defensiveness

  • Dislikes the feeling of “peeing” or “pooping” and withholds.
  • Fearful of falling into a regular sized toilet
  • Dislikes the feeling of wiping or being wiped.
  • Prefers the parent to wipe them
  • Does not like to wash their hands
  • Takes off all their clothes to use a toilet
  • Avoids flushing the toilet

3. Toileting and Sensory Processing Issues Related to Poor Registration of Sensory Input with a Hyperactive or Over-reactive Response

  • The child is fearful of the sensations involved when they pee or poop.
  • Reports that the act of “peeing” or “pooing” hurts terribly, crying, etc.
  • Extreme reaction to the sound of the flush or the air dryer
  • Gags, or chokes at the smell of the poop
  • Visually distracted by details in the bathroom, including lines in the tile, dust on the floor, etc.

4. Toileting and Sensory Processing Related to Sensory Seeking

  • Repetitively flushing the toilet
  • Fecal smearing
  • Repetitively having accidents in pants, enjoys the sensation
  • Playing in the water
  • Playing in the sink
  • Asks to use the toilet in public constantly

5. Toileting and Sensory Processing Issues related to Sensory Avoiding

  • Avoids wearing big girl or big boy underwear, prefers a diaper
  • Will tell you when the diaper needs to be changed, doesn’t want a wet diaper
  • Difficulty tolerating new bathrooms, public bathrooms, etc.
  • Covers ears when flushing, air hand dryer goes on, etc.
  • Holds nose for bowel movements
  • Avoids using certain toilets with “hard” seats
  • Avoids going into the bathroom, “sneaks off” to poop in diaper behind a couch, etc.

potty training, sensory processing

How to Help: 15 Amazing Strategies for Toileting

1. Try a  4 in 1 Stages Potty Seat which is closer to the ground and fits a smaller bottom. It also helps transition to use a grown-up toilet

2.  Try fun potty seats like this Race Car Potty and Character Underwear that are motivating!

3.  Try using flushable wipes and a Wipes Warmer to make the experience of wiping more enjoyable

* one consideration for this is that your child may begin to rely on it…. if you are out in public and don’t have warm wipes, will it be a problem?  Take that into consideration before making it part of your routine.  But if you are desperate, it’s worth a shot!

4.  Sing Songs to make toilet training more fun:

  • “Let it go! Let it go!”
  • “Push it out, Push it out, WAY OUT!”
  • “Pee Pee in the Potty, Pee Pee in the Potty!”
  • “I just want to Potty all the time, Potty all the time, Potty all the time!”

5.  Use painter’s tape to make a line for boys to know where to stand

6.  Offer Toilet Targets  or use goldfish crackers or fruit loops (get the pee in the hole!)

7.  For children who aren’t sure if they have to pee OR poop, let them sit.  It’s hard to tell which muscles are which.

8.  Provide an inviting environment depending on your child’s sensory needs:

  • For a sensory seeker, bright lights, fun music, and toys alerting aromatherapy (peppermint and eucalyptus).

  • For a  sensory avoider, soft lighting (night lights) and music, calming aromatherapy (lavender and chamomile).  *Click for more info about Aromatherapy

9.  Let your child leave the room before flushing if they are defensive, OR let your child choose if they flush or you do.

10.  Use earplugs to block the sounds, (especially in a public bathroom), OR keep post-its in your bag to put over the automatic sensor.

11.  Use a soft toilet seat.

12.  Keep a  Potty Training Chart   or offer Potty Reward Stickers for Boys or Girls

13.  Try a toileting schedule. Have your child sit on the toilet every 15 minutes for a few minutes. If they go, Wahoo! big Praise. If not, that’s ok, we’ll try again in 15 minutes.

14.  Provide a Kitchen Timer for set “potty” sitting times.  Let your child set the timer so they are a part of the process.

15.  If your child is fearful of the sensation of pooping in the toilet, have them help you dump the poop from the diaper into the toilet and then flush it.

Toileting and sensory issues

Toileting and Sensory Processing in Children with Special Needs

Very often problems with potty-training, such as accidents, difficulty recognizing if they have to go, struggles with hygiene, fear of flushing, and refusal to use the toilet are the result of an inefficient sensory processing system.  It is important to note that children with developmental delays and other diagnoses may need more time to be trained.   As parents and educators, it is essential to treat the process with patience.  Your child has a lot of information and sensory signals to make sense of and every child has to go at their own pace.  Do not feel the “peer pressure” from other parents that your child “should be” ready.

Sensory Processing Resources

GET YOUR FREEBIES: 

potty training, toileting, toilet training, developmental checklists, ready for potty, potty and sensory, poop and sensory

Additional Potty Training Resources

Establishing Toileting Routines for Children Tips – a Printable from the American Occupational Therapy Association

6 Tips for Successful Potty Training from the American Occupational Therapy Association

References

Abraham, M. C. (2002). In Pressnal D. O., Wheeler K. (Eds.), Addressing learning differences: Sensory integration; practical strategies and sensory motor activities for use in the classroom. Frank Schaffer Publications.

Ahn, R., Miller, L., Milberger, S., & McIntosh, D. (2004). Prevalence of parents’ perceptions of sensory processing disorders among kindergarten children.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 58, 287-293.

Crozier, S. C., Goodson, J. Z., Mackay, M. L., Synnes, A. R., Grunau, R. E., Miller, S. P., et al. (2015). Sensory processing patterns in children born very preterm. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 70.

Daunhauer, L., Fidler, D., & Will, E. (March 2014). School function in students with down syndrome. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(2):167-176. 

Garland, T. (2014). Self-regulation interventions and strategies. Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing & Media. Shelly J. Lane, PhD, OTR/L, FOATA, Isabelle Beaudry-Bellefeuille, MScOT; Examining the Sensory Characteristics of Preschool Children With Retentive Fecal Incontinence. Am J Occup Ther 2015;69(Suppl. 1):6911500194p1. doi: 10.5014/ajot.2015.69S1-PO6099.

Functional Skills for Kids

Do you have an amazing toileting trick or tip? What potty training strategy helped your child?

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