Akron occupational therapy

When Should Kids Learn to Button & Zip? Akron Occupational Therapy Insight

Learning to zip, button, and use “fasteners” for dressing is a key self-care skill. Multiple times every day, we’re zipping jeans, buttoning shirts, zipping coats, buttoning pajamas, etc. We don’t expect kids to learn all this overnight, but as our Akron occupational therapy team can explain, mastering these skills to the point of being able to handle them without the aid of a parent or teacher is key to a independence.

For kids with developmental delays and disabilities, acquiring these skills may take a bit longer. Our Akron occupational therapy team can help.

Although every kid develops at their own rate, the general consensus is that typically developing kids will:

By age 2:

  • Unzip zippers with large tabs.
  • Pull a zipper up if an adult holds the bottom tight.
  • Unbutton larger buttons of 1 inch or more.

By age 3:

  • Unbutton 3 large buttons, even if they don’t do so in the exact right order.

By age 4:

  • Unzip and unsnap clothing while wearing it.
  • Close the front snap on their clothes.
  • Button and unbutton while wearing a front-opening garment.

By age 5:

  • Open all fasteners on any piece of clothing.
  • Hook and zip up on their own.

By age 6:

  • Can hook and zip on their own while wearing clothes.

There will of course be some variations – even among typically-developing children – but it’s important to bear in mind that each set of skills requires children to master other prerequisites. For example, a child without a neat pincer grasp (where the thumb touches the index finger while picking up a small object) is necessary before you can have any expectation that a child can start to take on zipping and buttoning.

Why Our Akron Occupational Therapy Team Prioritizes Button and Zipper Mastery

What’s the big deal with buttons and zipper? Occupational therapy is an area of practice concerned with helping people of all ages and abilities gain and maintain independence and success in the tasks of daily life. The ability to dress your own self is a matter of independence, and part of the “occupation” of daily living.

When we see a child is struggling to button, zip, and fasten, we look to see where are the skill deficits. Often, it’s one of the following areas with which they’re having difficulty:

  • Hand-eye coordination.
  • Visual skills.
  • Pinching and grasping.
  • Motor planning.
  • Sequencing.
  • Bilateral coordination.
  • Trouble paying attention.
  • Low frustration tolerance.
  • Lack of exposure or practice.

Once we’ve identified where the trouble spots are, we can incorporate “play time” exercises that will help kids gain confidence and work up to these skills.

If your child has ongoing struggles with these or other skills necessary for independence, our Akron occupational therapy team at Therapy & Wellness Connection can help.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Developmental Milestones: Dressing Skills, Children’s Hospital of Orange County

More Blog Entries:

5 Signs Your Child May Need Akron Occupational Therapy, Sept. 17, 2022, Akron Occupational Therapy Blog

Cleveland occupational therapy

Handwriting Helpers From Our Cleveland Occupational Therapy Team

Lots of kids struggle with handwriting, especially early on. But if problems persist, it may be time to consult with a Cleveland occupational therapy provider.

Handwriting is an important skill for schoolchildren – and well into adulthood. It’s a basic tool used in the classroom to allow kids to express their ideas, create stories, and take tests. What’s more, handwriting goes hand-in-hand with reading and spelling skills. When a child has a tough time consistently writing letters clearly and easily, they’re going to have a tougher time with interrelated skills as well.

Some parents assume the problem is primarily that the child is “just being lazy.” However, issues that commonly contribute to handwriting hardships among kids have nothing to do with the child’s lack of motivation. Often, the underlying issue has something to do with the child’s fine motor skills or learning and attention issues. These things may not be obviously visible, but they are no less real.

According to the State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5, more than 1 in 5 kids has a learning or attention issue. It’s not a cause for alarm, but early intervention can help them keep pace with other kids their age so they don’t fall too far behind.

Cleveland Occupational Therapy Handwriting Milestones to Note

Although all kids develop handwriting and other skills at their own pace, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on the timing of certain milestones to know whether they’re starting to fall behind the average. This helps determine whether intervention from a Cleveland occupational therapy team may be beneficial.

  • Preschool. During this time, we should be seeing the first circular scribbles as your child tries to write their name and starts attempting the shapes of other letters.
  • Pre-K and kindergarten. Kids in this age bracket usually enjoy drawing and labeling objects, using invented spellings (often skipping over the vowels), and start to get a handle on upper case letters that (for the most part) are correctly formed.
  • First grade. This is where we see fine motor skills strengthening as the child becomes more confident in controlling their writing. In learning the difference between upper & lower case letters, they may still be a bit inventive with their spelling.
  • Second grade. At this stage, we should start to see kids’ handwriting get neater and smaller. They have the ability to pay closer attention to the thought behind what they’re writing rather than solely the mechanics of making the letters.
  • Third grade. This is where a lot of kids start to learn cursive – and in so doing, they may sacrifice speed to focus once more on letter formation. Some class assignments may be in cursive, so they’ll take longer.

How Do I Know if My Child’s Poor Handwriting is a Problem That Requires Intervention?

Very few kids are going to have zero handwriting struggles. But where we raise the prospect of intervention is when a child shows signs of fine motor skills difficulties indicative of a learning disability called dysgraphia.

Dysgraphia is when a child struggles to write with a pen, pencil or crayon. It will also show up with other tasks requiring fine motor skills, such as cutting with scissors or zipping up their coat. It can sometimes be co-occurring with other conditions like ADHD and dyslexia, but not always.

Some telltale signs of dysgraphia include things like:

  • Handwriting that is all different sizes and not legible
  • Trouble writing for reasonable lengths of time
  • Avoiding activities that require writing or drawing
  • Awkward pencil grip and body position

If you notice these issues, it’s a good idea to raise the with the school’s special education team. They may suggest additional testing to see what services your child may qualify for.

Another option would be to consult with a private Cleveland occupational therapy provider, such as Therapy & Wellness Connection. We can work with your child over the course of weeks or months to help them tackle these challenges.

Tips to Get in More Handwriting Practice

In addition to seeking professional intervention, you can absolutely try to help them get in as much at-home practice as possible.

Some exercises to consider:

  • Letter formation drills. There are lots of resources for this online, and they involve practice with things like mixing upper & lowercase letters, going from top to bottom, etc. Make it fun, offer rewards for getting better results each time.
  • Multi-sensory exercises. Set the pencils aside for a moment. Instead, work on letter formation with different types of tools and toys that incorporate more sensory input. Have them trace letters in sand or salt with their finger, use a stick to carve it into the dirt, using shaving cream on the driveway – anything that allows them to get in that letter practice without actually using a pencil.
  • Make sure the pencils your child is using have a good grip. This helps set them up for success. Consider buying grips for pencils that will help them hold the utensil properly and have a firm grip. Chances are you will see some improvement.

If you have further questions about dysgraphia or handwriting help, contact our experience Cleveland occupational therapy team for more information.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Dysgraphia, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

5 Signs Your Child May Need Akron Occupational Therapy

Akron occupational therapy helps kids with a broad range of physical, cognitive, motor, and speech deficits to develop those skills to the best of their abilities and reach their maximum potential.

Our pediatric occupational therapists at Therapy & Wellness Connection provide services in-clinic (at our Brecksville location), as well as in homes, daycares, and other settings.

Although the specific goals are going to vary based on the individual child and their diagnosis, in general our team helps kids improve the function and independence in the areas of basic life skills. Our patients are primarily kids and teens who have disabilities, injuries, or illnesses that have led to developmental delays or a loss of key life skills.

Our OT experts will carefully analyze a child’s unique abilities and goals and then design activities to help them practice and improve their skillsets.

Who Benefits From Akron Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is not a one-size-fits-all practice for a single group of individuals. We treat patients with a broad range of conditions and abilities. Among them are individuals with:

  • Down syndrome
  • ASD (autism spectrum disorder)
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Global developmental delays
  • Sensory processing disorder
  • Brain injuries, spinal injuries, birth injuries

OTs can treat people of all ages and at all stages of life. It’s just that our team at TWC is primarily focused on youth – from birth to 18, with career counseling/tutoring/training after that point for young adults.

Some kids may struggle just in one area or with one skill set, but sometimes they need help with a broad range of skills – from handwriting to self-care (dressing, bathing, feeding, toothbrushing, toilet training, walking) to organizing school work to successfully managing social scenarios that may not come easily.

Our Akron occupational therapists provide services that are almost entirely play-based – because that’s how children learn best! When they’re having fun, they’re infinitely more engaged and enthusiastic about tackling the task at hand.

Indicators Your Child Needs OT Intervention

Because occupational therapy isn’t as well-known of a practice area as, say speech therapy or behavior therapy, parents may not clearly recognize the need for occupational therapy intervention the way our team will. But here are some signs that you may want to raise the possibility to your child’s pediatrician (who will make the OT referral):

  1. Your child avoids (or obsessively seeks) certain surfaces, textures, food temperatures, noises, etc. This can be a sign of sensory processing disorder. Our Northeast Ohio occupational therapists can help your child overcome while making it fun. (We don’t want it to feel like work!)
  2. Your child doesn’t use both hands together when they’re playing or carrying out a task. Issues with bilateral coordination are fairly common, but they can be a hinderance as your child grows and is expected to take on increasingly difficult tasks. Trouble with fine motor skills and bilateral coordination is something our team of OTs can help them work on – and give you tips for practicing at home.
  3. Your child has a tough time dressing themselves or taking on other self-care tasks. Of course, it’s normal for their to be a learning curve with certain things like toilet training, brushing their teeth, getting dressed, etc. But if they are behind their peers in these areas, getting OT intervention now can help them “catch up” to their peers – and avoid falling further behind as the expectations only increase.
  4. Your child struggles with self-calming. All kids have tantrums from time-to-time and self-control is certainly a learned skill. But if they routinely have big reactions to small problems or have a much tougher time than their peers in gaining control of themselves and their emotions, an occupational therapist may be able to help by teaching them strategies that can serve them well in life – as challenging, frustrating situations only increase as they get older.
  5. Your child is showing signs of autism. Autism can look different from child to child, but some key indicators are delayed speech, eye contact avoidance, not responding to one’s name, a seeming disinterest in engaging socially (or socially inappropriate responses to certain stimuli), etc. Occupational therapists help kids on the autism spectrum with a broad range of physical, cognitive, motor, sensory, and social skills.

If you want to learn more about our occupational therapy services at Therapy & Wellness Connection, we’re happy to answer your questions and give you a tour of our clinic.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Occupational Therapists: What do they do? Child Mind Institute

More Blog Entries:

How Cleveland Occupational Therapists Treat Tactile Defensiveness in Kids, July 16, 2022, Akron Occupational Therapy Blog

Ohio kindergarten readiness

Ohio Kindergarten Readiness Skills: Is Your Child Developmentally Ready?

Kindergarten is the new first grade. At least that’s been the conclusion after research the last few years into Ohio kindergarten readiness and standard developmental milestones that public schools expect kids to have by the time they start school.

Our Cleveland occupational therapists and homeschool teachers at Therapy & Wellness Connection are familiar with this research, including a longitudinal study that came out more than a decade ago compared kindergarten readiness standards in 1998 to those in 2010. They found that the standards for entering kindergarten in 2010 were on par with what was expected of first-graders in the 1990s. For example, in 1998, about less than one-third of teachers thought their students should know how to read entering kindergarten. By 2010, that figure jumped to a whopping 80 percent. Researchers expressed astonishment at the magnitude of changes in classroom expectations just in this 20-year window.

Standards for Ohio kindergarten readiness have only continued to climb. It’s one of the reasons our occupational therapists and intervention specialists are such ardent preachers of early intervention therapies if it appears a young child is falling behind developmentally. The sooner developmental delays and issues are addressed, the less farther behind they will continue to fall. They won’t have as much “catching up” to do by the time they reach kindergarten age.

Ohio kindergarten readiness speech therapists Cleveland occupational therapists

What is Required for Ohio Kindergarten Readiness?

Every year, public school districts are in the Buckeye State are required to administer the Ohio Kindergarten Readiness Assessment Revised (KRA-R) to all first-time kindergarten students at the start of each school year. The test is not traditional pencil and paper, but rather looks at the child’s knowledge and abilities across four areas: Language and Literacy, Mathematics, Physical Well-being and Motor Development, and Social Foundations.

Some of what proctors are assessing:

  • Language and Literacy: Make predictions/ask questions about the text of interactive read-alouds after looking at the title, cover, illustrations/photos, graphic aids or texts.
  • Math: Count to identify how many objects in a set, compare categories with comparisons vocabular (greater than/less than, same/equal to, etc.).
  • Social Skills: Can interact with peers in pretend play, plan and coordinate roles and cooperation.
  • Physical Well-Being and Motor Development: Demonstrate locomotor skills with control, coordination, and balance during active play (hopping, jumping, running, etc.)

Your child’s scores on this test are going to determine how ready they are for kindergarten instruction, though it can’t be used to prohibit them from starting. But kids who develop stronger age appropriate behaviors, skill, and knowledge when they start kindergarten are going to be more likely to excel on their academic track.

Developmental Milestones to Pay Attention to as Your Child Approaches Kindergarten

Developmental delays of all ages should be promptly addressed at the time you notice them, some developmental milestones you should pay careful attention to as your child reaches kindergarten age:

  • Do they speak clearly? Kids need to have a base-level of communication in order to thrive in kindergarten. They need to be able to articulate their thoughts clearly and be able to understand when others are communicating with them. Not only will this help academically, but will help them to form stronger connections with their peers. If your child is approaching kindergarten and struggles forming sounds or words, seems confused when directions are given, doesn’t ask questions like other kids their age, or otherwise seem delayed, they may need some additional help. Speech-language disorders are pretty common around preschool age, but it’s a good idea to seek a consultation with a speech therapist if this is the case.
  • Do they understand questions? It’s important that kids are able to understand how to ask basic who-what-when-where-why questions, and be able to answer them in return.
  • Do they recognize their numbers and letters? They don’t necessarily need to have a mastery of the alphabet or be doing algebra, but schools will typically expect them to know how to count to 10 and understand basic math concepts (greater/less than, etc.). And they should be able to recognize most letters and associate sounds with some of them.
  • Do they understand the basic concept of time? This is a tough one for a lot of kids, but it’s not really about being able to tell time. Your child should, however, have a basic understanding of before, now, soon, yesterday, tomorrow, later, etc.
  • Can they tell a story? They’re not expected to be little Shakespeares, but they should be able to tell simple stories with what most would recognize as a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Can they recognize patterns? Can they recognize patterns in shapes, sizes, numbers? This will be important to basic math concepts.
  • Do they have basic fine motor skills? They don’t necessarily need to know exactly how to hold a pencil and write when they enter kindergarten, but they should be able to pick up a marker and reliably make marks on the paper. If your child is struggling with these skills, take time to practice with them every day – coloring, using utensils, pouring juice, etc. to help them build up their muscle strength and coordination. (There are TONS of fun crafts too that require fine motor skills that you can incorporate too. The more fun you make it, the faster your child will learn!)

Keep in mind that all kids develop at different rates. If your child hasn’t reached every single milestone, that’s Ok. A little extra practice may go a long way. But if you find they’re still struggling the closer you get to kindergarten age, you may want to talk to your pediatrician about a consultation with a speech therapist and/or occupational therapist to help bolster these skills. We want them ready to take on the world!

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Ohio Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, Ohio Department of Education

More Blog Entries:

Late Talkers” Who Get Early Intervention Speech Therapy Have Better Long-Term Outcomes, April 13, 2022, Cleveland Speech Therapy & Occupational Therapy Blog

Cleveland occupational therapists

How Cleveland Occupational Therapists Treat Tactile Defensiveness in Kids

Tactile defensiveness is a term used by our Cleveland occupational therapists to describe hypersensitivity to touch. Those who experience tactile defensiveness say they’re more bothered than others by different textures on their skin. This may extend to different textures of food, fabrics, flooring, certain self-care tasks and showing affection.

Those with touch sensitivities may be extremely averse to certain sensations in a way that impacts their daily lives. They may have much bigger reactions than one would expect to uncomfortable physical sensations. It might manifest in things like refusing to put on certain socks, shirts or underwear. Toothbrushing could be a battle. They may be extremely picky eaters. They may loathe messy play and playing barefoot outside.

Cleveland occupational therapists sensory integration

Some of this might simply be chalked up to being “quirky.” And of course, all of us have certain aversions or preferences to sensory input. But when we’re talking about tactile defensiveness, we’re talking about hypersensitivity. And with that, there are ways in which tactile defensiveness can impede a child’s health, growth, well-being, development, and personal relationships. This is why our Cleveland occupational therapists intervene with treatment.

We don’t know exactly what causes tactile sensitivity, but it’s extremely common in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). (It can also swing the other way – sensory-seeking rather than sensory-averse. This means they exhibit a low threshold for registering a tactile sense, rather than the low threshold noted in those with tactile defensiveness.)

Why Our Sense of Touch Matters

Our sense of touch is one of the first sensory systems that develops in utero. As our Cleveland occupational therapists can explain, literal libraries of research that shows touch experience between parents/caregivers and babies is critically important for their cognitive, behavioral, motor, and social development. The appropriate tactile and proprioceptive responses are pivotal for achieving developmental milestones like grasping, walking, and social/communication skills.

Tactile defensiveness can interfere with a child’s ability to participate in regular, healthy routines and daily activities.

Whereas someone with “typical” sensory integration might not be keen on having an itchy tag on their t-shirt rubbing up against their neck, it doesn’t ruin their entire day. They’ll probably just get used to it and forget about it. However, a child who has tactile defensiveness may be so impacted by this sensation that they may not be able to carry out the tasks of daily functioning – potentially even having a full-blown meltdown until the tag is removed. And even thereafter, they may need some additional time to truly self-regulate.

We can also see this in areas like eating/feeding. A child who is extremely averse to eating foods of different tastes and textures may ultimately have a poor diet – and failure to thrive – because they’re only eating one or two things.

Lots of kids with tactile defensiveness also have major aversions to self-care tasks like brushing their teeth, combing/cutting their hair, or bathing. But not doing those things isn’t really an option. There may be some adaptations and accommodations that can be made, but kids also need to learn how to overcome some of these aversions to ensure they’re healthy, growing, and on the right track developmentally.

occupational therapy Cleveland autism spectrum disorder tactile defensiveness

Ways Cleveland Occupational Therapists Help With Sensory Integration

We have lots of strategies to help kids with tactile defensiveness process sensory input, and all of it is tailored to their unique needs and goals.

Some of our tips and tricks:

  1. Build trust with exposure to certain stimuli being slow and gradual. A child with tactile defensiveness is going to completely melt down if you try to introduce too much at once or make demands that are too high. Yes, we want to challenge the child, but that takes time – going slowly and building trust. Also, we want it to be fun! Sudden, unpredictable changes can cause major anxiety and are ultimately setbacks. We want to set them up for success, so we go at a pace that works for them.

2. Incorporate deep pressure sensory input. This might seem counterintuitive, but lots of kids with tactile defensiveness have a particularly hard time with LIGHT touches. Tickling, brushes against the skin, rain, wind/air conditions, etc. Deep pressure can help calm them, especially if they’re overstimulated. Compression vests can be really helpful. (For bedtime, weighted blankets are great too.)

3. Removing other sensory stimuli. If we’re in a room that’s too loud/crowded or there are lots of visual distractions, it’s going to be really tough to get them to overcome a sensation they’re uncomfortable with. There’s too much else competing for their attention.

4. Make it predictable. We create what we call a visual schedule or visual calendar for when we’re planning on introducing touch experiences that might be challenging. We create a picture chart that shows “first, then, next,” and exactly what we’re going to do. That way, there are no surprises, and they know exactly what is going to come next.

5. Heavy work. These are the kinds of activities that involve pulling and pushing objects that are heavy or create some resistance, which gives them some of that deep pressure impact that can be calming when they’re dealing with challenging sensory input. We’ll do this a lot of times on “break” from messy activities.

In all of these sessions, we think it’s really important for the kids themselves to maintain a degree of control. We give them choices, and control over what we do next, so that they don’t feel so much like this is “work,” but rather play. It also helps build trust between the child and therapist, which helps make the lessons we’re teaching more successful.

Additional Resources:

Best Sensory Strategies for Handling Tactile Defensiveness, Feb. 2, 2022, By Aditi Srivastava, MOT, PGC, Autism Parenting Magazine

More Blog Entries:

5 To-Dos After Cleveland Autism Diagnosis, May 13, 2022, Cleveland Occupational Therapists Blog

Akron occupational therapists

7 Summer Activity Ideas From Our Akron Occupational Therapists

As Akron occupational therapists, we’re frequently working on things like handwriting, self-regulation, and executive functioning. But summertime play is a veritable goldmine of sensory activities that can help boost a child’s development.

We’ve put together a list of summer occupational therapy play ideas that can help kids offset screen time, and can be a great resource for parents, teachers, camp counselors, etc. Our Akron occupational therapists tried to keep in mind the fact that many parents right now are looking for fresh summer activity ideas that won’t break the bank. Many of these are activities the whole family can enjoy!

Make Kinetic Sand

Kinetic sand is something of a wonder, and it’s fun for kids and adults alike. It’s easy to clean, magically sticks to itself, and can be easily stored. It also doesn’t dry out, so it lasts a long time. Kinetic sand can be used to help with tons of fine motor skills, like cutting, shaping, mixing, molding, and digging. It can help with with social-emotional regulation because it’s calming and provides great sensory input. Kids can get creative with it – especially when they make their own! The OT Toolbox offers an easy, three-ingredient Kinetic sand that simply requires sand, shaving cream, and baking soda. Super simple, and lots of fun to make!

Akron occupational therapists

Make Ice Cream Crafts

SO many ways to tailor this, using different materials and ideas. But in almost all of them, kids are going to be exercising their executive functioning and fine motor skills, as well as their creative muscles. Here are list of 15 cool ice cream craft ideas, using everything from balloons & glitter to cotton balls & construction paper to paper mache and paint. (Making their own ice cream sundae can also be a fun, once-in-a-while activity, with a little mess to be expected.)

occupational therapists Akron

Plant seeds.

There are SO many sensory benefits that come with gardening. And, as our Akron occupational therapists can explain, kids can help with planning the garden, learning about the various plants and what they need to grow, documenting the growth as they mature from seedling to full bloom. Planting and weed pulling is great for proprioception. Plant herbs, flowers, or vegetables – and let kids touch, taste, see, and hear. Add some wind chimes or a water feature for extra sensory input. Read more about the benefits of sensory gardening here.

Akron OT kids

Have your child make their own snack!

Maybe it’s not something you’d expect them to do every day, when the school year is in full-swing. But the summer can provide a great opportunity for kids to practice their independence and put together their own snack. This helps with fine motor skills, sensory input, executive functioning and (if they’re working with a parent or sibling) communication and social skills. Some easy recipes might include things like honey crispy treats, mini fruit pizzas, fruit kabobs, ants on a log, and fruit and yogurt parfaits. You might even consider pre-making a healthy, self-serve snack box and maybe some pictures with ideas to help them out.

occupational therapy kids Akron

Make an obstacle course in chalk.

This is going to help them work on motor planning, executive function, balance, and creativity! Set up in the driveway or nearby sidewalk, give them chalk and help them get started: Lily pads for frog hopping? A bridge to tip toe or balance over? An animal walk on a wavy line? A square for dancing? It doesn’t have to be complicated. There is a great example of a chalk obstacle course here!

Cleveland occupational therapy

Write a friend a letter.

It could be a friend. Or Grandma/Grandpa. Or maybe simply to someone in a nursing home who might be lonely and could use some cheering up. Have them work on their letter formation and draw a happy picture!

occupational therapists Akron

Tie dye a shirt.

This one requires some adult oversight, but it can be a lot of fun – and the results can be very cool! Check out these simple instructions for tie dying here.

Akron OT

These are just a few ideas! If you’re looking for some thoughts more tailored to your child’s exact skill-level and OT goals, just ask one of our Akron occupational therapists! We hope everyone is enjoying a wonderful – and safe – summer!

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Summer Development Activities for Kids, May 8, 2020, By Heather Greutman, GrowingHandsOnKids.com

More Blog Entries:

Does My Child Have Sensory Processing Disorder? Feb. 12, 2022, Akron Occupational Therapy Blog

Cleveland autism diagnosis

5 To-Dos After Cleveland Autism Diagnosis

Cleveland autism diagnosis

A Cleveland autism diagnosis can leave parents reeling – even when it’s something you’ve been expecting as you awaited the results of ADOS testing and other examinations. Sometimes, it can feel like something of a relief. You finally have answers. But there’s also the daunting next question: What now?

Parents face a lot of uncertainties, siblings may not understand (or may have much anxiety if they do), and the child who was diagnosed may not yet understand the implications – but can still sense shifts in emotional tone throughout the home.

Autism, more formally known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by difficulties with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and non-verbal communication. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that autism affects 1 in 44 children in the U.S. today. Our dedicated team of speech therapists, ABA therapists, occupational therapists, and educators offers help to families in Cleveland, Brecksville, Broadview Heights, and Akron.

No. 1: Breathe

The very first thing to do after a Cleveland autism diagnosis is BREATHE. Autism is a lifelong condition – and that in itself can feel very intimidating as you contemplate your next steps. But know that in most cases, the symptoms can be managed. Behaviors can be managed with help. Your child can lead a long, healthy, meaningful, successful life.

You have already taken the very hardest step in all of this, which is seeking professional intervention when you recognized something wasn’t quite right. You persisted in pursuing answers – even when you knew the answers might pose challenges you might not feel ready to face. You did this because you love your child.

Now that they have an autism diagnosis, give yourself a few beats to catch your breath, acknowledge your own feelings, and prepare yourself for the next chapter. Your engagement and advocacy will be pivotal to your child’s success, and it’s important that you’re in a good mental/emotional space to do so. Online support groups through Facebook and other social media channels can be especially helpful as you embark on this journey.

No. 2: Explore Early Intervention

The next/first step is to get help. Your options may vary depending on your child’s age. Do not worry that your child may be too young. A child can receive a Cleveland autism diagnosis as young as 18 months, and early intervention therapies are strongly recommended to start before a child turns 3.

In Northeast Ohio, we have a program called Help Me Grow for infants and toddlers birth to age 3 with a medical diagnosis or developmental delay, as well as for families concerned about their child’s development. They help work on things like speech delays, social interaction help with other kids, etc.

Services and specialists may include:

  • occupational therapy
  • speech therapy
  • physical therapy
  • developmental specialist
  • early childhood mental health therapy
  • registered dietician
  • vision and hearing specialists

You may need to obtain a referral to early intervention from your pediatrician or pediatric specialist. In Cuyahoga County, it takes about 45 days from the referral to complete the eligibility, assessment, individual family service plan, and then finally the beginning of early intervention services. There has been something of a backlog since COVID, so it’s a good idea to get this process started as soon as possible.

Cleveland autism resources

No. 3: Start Looking at Private Therapy

Early intervention is provided as a public service. But children with autism can also benefit from private therapy services. In the beginning, the schedule of these services may be intensive, ultimately tapering off as they reach their goals and milestones.

Children with autism are often referred for a combination of therapy services, including:

  • Speech Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Applied Behavioral Analysis (also known as ABA or behavior therapy)

Therapy & Wellness Connection offers all of these – and more – and insurance covers most if not all of these services if your child has been diagnosed with autism. We can provide these services in-clinic, in-home, and sometimes in school or daycare. Some patients may be eligible to receive some of these services via teletherapy.

The key with these services is consistency. Intensive therapy, particularly early on, can feel a bit overwhelming when it’s 3-4 times a week (longer stretches with ABA therapy), but showing up and being actively engaged in the carryover is important.

If your child is school-age, the school should begin the process of drafting an IEP, or individualized education plan. If you find ultimately that your child’s school and IEP fail to serve their best interests, there are scholarships available to enroll them in private education, with teachers who will teach the way they learn. Therapy & Wellness Connection offers homeschooling and other education services with credentialed special teachers and intervention specialists.

No. 4: Engage With a Social Skills Group

Among the most significant deficits many kids on the autism spectrum face are communication and social skills. They’re going to need as much practice as they can – early and often. And it’s a lot of pressure to just put on a sibling or two. Joining a Cleveland social skills group for kids with autism can help them make significant strides.

We offer several different social skills groups, sorted by age, at our Brecksville clinic. These include:

  • Say-n-Play. This is an awesome group that focuses on social interactions and activities like crafts, songs, games, and books. It helps children with speech-language difficulties, but also following directions and engaging with others in a group setting.
  • OT Group. This focuses on zones of regulation, social interaction, and skills of daily life. We take fun “field trips,” play games, and work on group projects.
  • Thrive Social Center Courses. These include everything from learning social boundaries to getting along with friends to teens & technology, to young adult groups.

This extra support will help prepare kids for real-world scenarios and interactions, helping them make friends, stay safe, and be included.

No. 5: Learn to Listen Without Your Ears.

If your child has received a Cleveland autism diagnosis and is non-verbal or speech-delayed, it can be very frustrating to know what they want, what they don’t want, how you can help, and how to parent them. But just because they aren’t talking doesn’t mean they aren’t communicating. Remember that behavior itself is a form of communication, and kids on the spectrum may be engaging in “unexpected” behaviors to communicate wants, needs, or aversions.

ABA Therapy is extremely helpful in addressing unexpected behaviors and promoting those that are expected and helpful. Speech therapy can help with non-verbal communication, articulation, and social pragmatics. Occupational therapy can help kids tackle critical life skills like self-regulation, measuring the size of a problem, diversifying their diet, self-care, etc.

But in the meantime, recognize that just because they aren’t talking doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to say. You may be your child’s voice for the foreseeable future. It’s important to try your best to engage them at every opportunity, and understand what’s NOT being said.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides ABA therapy to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

What is Autism? AutismSpeaks.com

More Blog Entries:

Cleveland ABA Therapy Strategies, May 5, 2022, Cleveland Autism Treatment Blog

self regulation

How We Help Kids Learn Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is the ability to manage your own emotions and behavior in a way that matches the demands of a given situation. All of us have had trouble at some time or another checking our emotions when we feel heated or excited. But learning to resist highly-charged emotional responses, calm yourself when you’re upset, adjust your expectations, and handle frustration without an outburst? That’s really a lot to ask of any child in a world that is so unpredictable – but it’s especially tough when a child struggles with a condition like autism, down syndrome, or other disability, disorder, or delay.

Our dedicated occupational therapists, speech therapists, behavior therapists, and educators are committed to helping children practice and master this critical life skill.

Why Do Some Kids Struggle With Self-Regulation? 

Difficulties with self-regulation can be displayed in a number of ways, depending on the child. Some kids will have an instantly major reaction to something with no real  build-up. They sort of “explode,” and aren’t able to inhibit that behavior response. Other kids will allow distress to build up for a time, but can only take it for so long before we see an emotional outburst. Even when those of us on the outside can see it building, we have little notion of how to stop it.

In either case, what we’re talking about is more than a simple tantrum, which every kid goes through, particularly in the toddler stage. Difficulty with self-regulation is a persistent, ongoing issue involving behavior that isn’t developmentally appropriate. It’s one thing for your child to throw a tantrum when they’re 2. It’s another for your child to be regularly melting down at age 5 or older.

What’s critical for us as a therapy team is help kids learn how to safely handle those big emotions, finding ways to adequately express them in a way that is more effective, less disruptive, and safer than a meltdown. Doing so requires we understand the why of the behavior.

In our experience, issues with emotional control are some combination of individual temperament, learned behavior, and the lack of communication/social skills needed to effectively communicate their emotions otherwise. Children with conditions like ADHD, autism, ODD, anxiety, or other conditions, learning to manage emotions is especially challenging and requires more outside help.

Teaching Kids Key Emotional Control Techniques

Learning emotional self-regulation is an important life skill, and some kids need more help to learn it than others.

We typically start by teaching young children to recognize the sensations and feelings in their body, and then putting those feelings into thoughts. How does your head feel? How does your skin feel? How does your heart feel? What is your breath doing? What “zone” of emotion are you in? (This can be color-coordinated for younger kids, with very basic, “red =mad, yellow=silly, blue=sad, green=happy,” etc.) Awareness is critical before change.

Once they master this, we can start teaching them about the “size of a problem.” Keeping it simple, we measure some problems as “big,” some “medium,” and some “small.” Then we talk about how to measure reactions in a similar way – big, medium, or small. When small problems have big reactions, that’s when we have the most trouble. The key is to try getting the size of the reaction to match the size of the problem. When it doesn’t, we ask them to reflect. Repetition on this is key.

Another strategy we use early on is to break challenging activities – the ones we know are going to lead to serious frustration – into smaller, more manageable parts. Our occupational therapists can help create social stories for this too, preparing them for each step and spelling out exactly what is expected of them.

Each time they act out, wait until they’re calm, and then ask: What went wrong? Why? How can we fix it for next time? How can we self-advocate for things we need or want without having a meltdown? This helps to create a pattern of mindfulness and thinking about the impact of their reactions. We also try to regularly remind them that at any point, they can “change the channel” of their emotions, by doing things like taking deep breaths, counting to 10, stretching, or taking a break.

Once they can tie feelings to thoughts, reflect on what went wrong, and advocate for themselves, then we can start working on affirmations and positive self-talk (i.e., “I can do this,” “I am brave,” “I am ok,”) etc.

If self-regulation is a skill with which your child struggles, we can help!

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy, speech therapy, behavior therapy, and homeschooling, tutoring, and social skills groups to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

How Can We Help Kids With Self-Regulation? Child Mind Institute

More Blog Entries:

Brecksville ABA Therapists Offer “Time-Out” Alternatives, Feb. 6, 2022, Cleveland Occupational Therapy Blog

sensory processing disorder

Does My Child Have Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorder is a condition that has gained increasing recognition in recent years, to some extent because it’s often diagnosed with comorbid conditions like autism spectrum disorder and ADHD. However, as our Brecksville occupational therapists can explain, it can be present independent of these conditions. Health officials estimate 1 in 20 U.S. kids – or 6.5 percent – have some sort of sensory processing issues. By some accounts, it’s as high as 8 percent.

Despite its prevalence, there remains some confusing about what it is, what the symptoms are, how it can impact a person’s daily life, and how it’s effectively treated.

Sensory processing disorder, or SPD, is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information delivered through the senses. In addition to trouble processing sensations from touch (tactile), taste (gustatory), sound (auditory), sight (visual), and smell (olfactory), SPD includes sensory integration issues with the proprioceptive and/or vestibular systems. Proprioception is the perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body, while vestibular system is the sensory system that provides us a sense of balance, spatial orientation, and coordination of movement. Deficits with sensory processing can adversely impact a child with learning, movement coordination, reading/writing, behavior and social function.

Interestingly, sensory processing disorder can look different for different people. Some are overly sensitive to their environment. We call this hypersensitivity. Light touches on their skin may feel chaffing or common sounds may be overwhelming or even painful. Alternatively, one may not be sensitive enough to certain stimuli. They might be what we call “sensory-seeking,” or hyposensitive. They seek sensory input that others might think of as strange or even painful.

Like autism, it exists on a spectrum and is typically identified in children, but impacts adults as well. The exact cause is unknown, but research has indicated there is likely a strong genetic component.

Symptoms of Hypersensitivity Among Children With Sensory Processing Disorder

Those who are hypersensitive may have some combination of the following symptoms:

  • Withdrawing when touched
  • Overly sensitive to temperature of objects, water, food, or air
  • Refusal to eat foods of certain textures
  • Dislikes having their hair or face washed, hair cut, fingernails/toenails cut, etc.
  • Overly ticklish
  • Avoids messy play, including glue
  • Overreactive to unexpected touch
  • Overly sensitivity to temperature including air, food, water, or objects
  • Uses too little pressure when coloring or writing
  • Poor posture, poor balance, poor body awareness (sometimes described as clumsy)
  • Inattentive
  • Resists activities like slides, swings, escalators, elevators, etc.
  • Gets car sick or motion sick easily
  • Refuses to participate in gym class or dislikes trying new playground equipment
  • Oversensitivity to light, colors, sounds
  • Hums to block out background noise
  • Easily distracted by background noise
  • Strongly dislikes mixed textures (cereal in milk, chunky soup, etc.)
  • Resists trying any new foods or different textures (extremely picky eating, preferring bland foods)
  • Intolerance to teeth-brushing

Symptoms of Hyposensitivity Among Children With Sensory Processing Disorder

Kids with hyposensitivity may display some combination of the following:

  • High pain tolerance
  • Regularly bumps into others
  • Seeks out tactile sensory input
  • Stuffs food into their mouth
  • Licks items on their own skin
  • Tendency for self-abuse or injury (biting, rubbing, heavy pressure, head-banging, pinching, etc.)
  • Tends not to notice messy hands, face, or runny nose, etc.
  • Fails to recognize others’ need for personal space
  • Needs to touch everything
  • Unintentionally rough with pets, siblings, other kids
  • Trouble with fine motor tasks
  • Craves touch
  • Writes or draws with heavy pressure on the pencil
  • Trouble with fine motor tasks
  • Trouble sleeping unless being held or hugged
  • Can seem aggressive
  • Toe-walks
  • Grinds teeth
  • Chews on toys, pencils, shirt, sleeves, etc.
  • Stomps their feet when walking
  • Seeks out wrestling games
  • Poor balance
  • Constant fidgeting
  • Loves spinning, rocking, etc.
  • Hypermobile (constantly getting up from their desk at school, etc.).
  • Constantly hums
  • Makes silly/inappropriate sounds constantly

How Occupational Therapists Treat Kids With SPD

Lots of these symptoms can mirror other conditions, but as mentioned before, it can be a wholly standalone issue – even though it’s not currently recognized as a distinct medical diagnosis.

Because sensory processing disorder can impact kids in all kinds of ways, our Brecksville occupational therapists work regularly to help them integrate these senses. Treatment depends on the individual’s needs, but the general goal of sensory integration is to challenge the child in a way that is fun and playful so they learn to appropriately respond to sensory stimuli in a way that is considered more helpful/functional.

There are different models of treatment, but one of the most popular is the floor-time method. This involves multiple play sessions in which we start out with the adult following the child’s lead (even if the play isn’t typical). In essence, the therapist “enters the child’s world.” From there, we use the play sessions to create various challenges for the child, pulling the child into what’s known as a “shared world.” The challenges are opportunities for the child to master important skills for thinking, relating, and communicating. These are tailored to the child’s specific needs. For example, if the child is hyposensitive to stimuli, then we’ll be more energetic. If they tend to be hypersensitive, then our approach will be more soothing.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Sensory Processing Disorder, Feb. 7, 2021, By Brenda Goodman, MA, WebMD

More Blog Entries:

A Child’s “Occupation” is Play – A Brecksville Occupational Therapy Perspective, Dec. 8, 2021, Northeast Ohio Pediatric Occupational Therapist Blog

Brecksville early intervention

Neuroplasticity and How it Relates to Brecksville Early Intervention Services

If your child has been recommended for Brecksville early intervention services, either due to developmental delays or a diagnosis of a condition like autism, Down syndrome, or cerebral palsy, odds are you’ve heard the term “neuroplasticity.”

That’s a somewhat intimidating word, but the concept is fairly straightforward – and important to understand if you’re considering the value of early intervention services, which are initiated before a child’s 5th birthday, or sooner if possible.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change – to relearn, rewire, establish and strengthen important connections. If the brain is injured or developing atypically, neurons can be damaged, altered, or lost. The good news is that the brain can establish new pathways. There is a brief window of time with young children where the brain’s ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections – especially in response to learning or experience – is especially effective. This is called neuroplasticity.

Children’s minds are like little sponges, absorbing everything around them. It’s what gives them the “superpower” of learning the fundamentals of movement, language and basic independence (walking, talking, feeding, etc.) in just a few short years. If a child has a developmental delay or a condition that has made reaching typical developmental milestones challenging, intervening early with services like speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy, and physical therapy allows us to leverage a child’s natural neuroplasticity to help their brains create and reinforce new neural pathways that allow them to glean new skills, habits, and ways of thinking.