Expert Advice

Expert Advice, Tips & Affirmations from Pediatric Therapists
  • SPOTLIGHT ON OT’S

    April
    is the time of year when occupational therapists (OT’s) gets their time to
    shine in the national spotlight… and it is needed. The average person is not
    familiar with OT’s unless he/she or a family member has had a personal experience.
    It is even more unlikely that there is a true understanding of what an
    occupational therapist (OT) does when disability or disease it not involved. Below is a common scenario
    of what happens an OT is brought to light and introduced to a family with a
    young child.

    Johnny’s preschool teacher tells mom that
    she thinks he is having trouble holding a crayon and maybe needs to see a
    specialist. Mom does some research, learns about OT’s, and gets a doctor
    prescription. The OT completes an evaluation, which includes observing Johnny’s
    skills and conducting tests to see how he compares to children his age. The
    report written includes the results noting a delay, recommends therapy once a
    week for 30 minutes, and lists treatment strategies and measurable goals.
    Johnny sees the OT and participates in what looks like playtime. He completes
    exercises to build his strength in his hands as well as his large body muscles
    like walking around “like a bear.” He plays with toys that require him to push,
    pull, snap, or build using his hands differently or more efficiently. He colors
    with a special pencil grip to keep his fingers in place and decrease stress on
    the tiny joints of his young fingers. His OT creates a program for his parents
    to help him at home and measures his progress and creates more challenging
    activities for him until he is able to perform skills appropriate for his age
    level. Johnny’s becomes more independent at school and his confidence improves.

    OT’s
    can focus on many skill areas including dressing and feeding skills. Often a
    child that has trouble holding a crayon properly often also has difficulty
    holding other utensils and may require additional assistance with tasks like
    buttoning a shirt or tying shoelaces. An OT can assist with these life skills
    as well. If your child is struggling with daily activities common for his or
    her age, consult with your pediatrician about seeing an occupational therapist
    for an evaluation. I hope you find this tip helpful. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play
    Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric
    occupational therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of
    Playapy. For more information, visit
    www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

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  • Fidgeting May Be Beneficial for Children

    Did you know that fidgeting may actually be beneficial for kids? While fidgeting is mostly viewed negatively as restless movements including tapping a foot or fiddling with fingers, hair, clothing, or objects, it can also be purposeful and helpful.

    Some parents battle with their child to stop these restless behaviors, and sometimes it is necessary because the child may be harming him or herself. Yet, the fight to end fidgeting may be a battle better left unfought. Research conducted in the UK in 2005 by psychologists found that children that were allowed to fidget with their hands performed better in memory and learning tests. Researchers concluded that teachers should actually encourage fidgeting in class. This supports what pediatric occupational therapists have long recommended to teachers when suggesting fidget toys as tools for improved learning.

    Fidget toys provide sensory stimulation including tactile input and movement for a child’s hands. Together they help to improve focus and attention and can also facilitate language production and thinking overall. The improvement is attributed to how fidgeting can reduce stress or can arouse the body to function at an optimal level of performance. Without a fidget toy, a child could actually find it more difficult to maintain attention to a task, keep still in a seated position, or have difficulty formulating thoughts. Some examples of fidget toys can include small toy figurines, koosh balls, a pencil, or Tangle toys (pictured above).  Allowing a child to use a fidget toy may provide the needed stimulation for the brain and decrease negative behaviors like nail biting or picking at skin.

    A parent should consider having his or her child evaluated for an underlying cause of fidgetiness or poor focus in the classroom when the child’s progress is negatively affected or his or her behavior becomes a disruption to peers. A parent should also consider a professional opinion despite their own experience with fidgeting when they were younger. Parents sometimes feel that if they had the same issue as a child and survived without additional services that their child should be able to as well. However, schools are now more open to adapting environments for children and understand the benefit of addressing such behaviors from a developmental perspective.

    I hope you find this tip helpful. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more information, visit www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

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  • Do Girls Need Therapy As Much as Boys?

    In July 2014 an ad campaign by Always called #LikeAGirl became a movement bringing light to how discriminatory phrases in our culture often puts girls at a disadvantage. As a therapist, I have noted that the majority of my caseload has always been boys. Typically if I do have a female patient, she has a more complicated medical history. I have often pondered whether this disparity was more due to genetics or gender disadvantage. So why do boys receive therapy more than girls?

    It is true that more boys than girls are diagnosed with developmental disorders including autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and speech delays. This is due in part to girls developing language, social, and emotional skills faster than boys. A young female brain is actually known to have more activity, fibers, and white matter compared to the brain of a young boy. However, a 2014 DNA study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics revealed that girls seem to tolerate more genetic mutations than boys do before showing symptoms of autism and are therefore more resilient. Yet, when they are diagnosed, they tend to demonstrate symptoms that are more severe including in cases of ADHD and intellectual disability.

    Interestingly, a 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry looked at gender differences in ADHD and showed that females demonstrated more internalizing disorders such as separation anxiety verses the externalizing disorders common to males like oppositional defiant and conduct disorders. Taking both studies into consideration, I feel it is possible that girls may display different, less disruptive symptoms and hence fly under the radar. Perhaps the emotional maturity of young girls verses boys allows for more internal sign that are overlooked by parents and educators? Maybe it is not that girls tolerate mutations more than boys but that adults are less tolerant of the behavior displayed by boys? The debate is not likely to end anytime soon; but, in the meantime, let’s consider that acting like a girl may cause girls to be under-diagnosed.

    Symptoms of ADHD in girls include dreaminess, forgetfulness, or messiness that may lead to difficulty with completing school assignments, expression of anxiety in social situations, and feelings of inadequacy with school work. If observed, consider consulting with your primary care physician about seeking an evaluation with a pediatric occupational therapist. I hope you find this helpful. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more information, visit www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

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  • January is National Eye Care Month

    During January, National Eye Care Month, start the new year by looking into your child’s vision. According to the Vision Council of America, nearly 50% of parents with children under 12 have never taken their children to an eye care professional. Typically parents know to schedule a traditional eye exam, which involves testing vision by reading an eye chart. However, there are also symptoms that can be signs that other healthcare providers could address due to the negative effects on academic, emotional, and life skills. Beyond visual acuity, which measures the clearness of vision, a child could also have deficiencies with visual perception and visual motor skills.

    Visual perception includes skills that determine how well a person understands what is seen specifically with skills including memory and discrimination of forms such as shapes, letters, and numbers. Visual motor skills include how well the muscles around the eyes coordinate to control eye movement.

    10 Signs of visual concerns in children can include the following:

    1)    Bumps into objects or people

    2)    Has difficulty putting away or sorting objects

    3)    Has difficulty paying attention to visual tasks

    4)    Reverses or misreads letters, numbers and words

    5)    Has difficulty copying or writing within lines or margins

    6)    Has difficulty remembering phone numbers

    7)    Has poor spelling, math skills, and/or reading comprehension

    8)    Skips words or entire lines when reading, or reads the same sentence over

    9)    Rubs eyes often or complains of eye strain

    10) Routinely fails to observe or recognize changes in bulletin board displays, signs or posted notices

    If your child demonstrates these symptoms, consult with your primary care physician about seeking an evaluation with a pediatric occupational therapist or developmental optometrist. I hope you find these tips helpful. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more information, visit www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

     

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  • Holiday Tips for Toy Buying in a Tech World

    The holidays are quickly approaching, and parents have toy buying on their minds. With the fast-paced advancement of technology, gift giving has become an expensive and overwhelming process that seems to generate more anxiety than joy to the world. Parents want the best for their children and are willing to purchase the newest products, but sometimes simplicity is superior. Numerous studies have shown that the increased use of technology has resulted in a decline in critical thinking and cognitive skills, attention span, and the ability to self-regulate. In addition, the use of technology in small children can limit the time spent using their hands in ways that develop the muscles needed for skills like handwriting and shoelace tying. In fact the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and the visionary behind the iPhone and the iPad, understood that fostering a young child’s creativity and imagination involves also limiting time with technology. He was known as a low-tech parent as are many tech executives in Silicon Valley that have adopted this parenting style.

    So how can a parent feel empowered and balance the love of technology without causing any harm this holiday season? Here are some tips to consider.

    1. Limit Use Time: Restrict infants aged 0-2 years completely from technology, 3 to 5 years olds to no more than one hour per day, and 6 to 18 year old to 2 hours per day according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics.
    2. Choose Educational Games: Purchase apps that help to develop math, reading, and other developmental skills including games that encourage problem solving and strategy.
    3. Purchase Timeless Toys: Select games and toys that involve constructing, building, or creating. Toys that don’t require batteries or wifi like blocks, dolls, board games, and card games also encourage proper social skills that are neglected from too much tech time.

    Holiday toy buying can seem like an exercise in list checking, but taking the time to make intelligent choices about technology can also encourage play to be smart as well as simple, affordable, and healthy for your child. I hope you find these tips helpful. Have a playful day!

    Amy Baez, OTR/L, The Smart Play Curator

    Amy Baez is a pediatric occupational therapist, award-winning handwriting author, and founder of Playapy. For more information, visit www.playapy.com or email info@playapy.com.

     

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