Benefits of a Slant Board

There are many reasons to invest in a slant board for your child, including benefits in handwriting.  A slant board typically consists of aslant board flat surface positioned at an angle with clips or anchors to hold materials (such as paper and books) in place.  They come in a variety of sizes and angles, and some are even adjustable. 

Below are several benefits of slant boards for your child for use both in and out of the classroom:

  • Promotes fine and visual motor skills- The angled position of the slant board promotes better placement of the shoulder, arm and hand.  It is therefore providing a better position to work on skills such as writing and drawing.  The position of the board also brings the paper closer to the child and makes it easier to see.
  •  Promotes an efficient marker grasp- The best hand position for handwriting and holding a writing utensil is in wrist flexion. The angled position of the slant board promotes this position, which provides better support for holding a pencil appropriately.  This position may also assist in applying just the right amount of muscle force in holding a pencil.
  •  Provides an easier to reach work surface-For children who have difficulty reaching the entire paper while flat on a desk, the slant board provides an easier distance to reach from the top to the bottom of the page, while also keeping the paper stabilized.
  • Helps with posture- Typically, writing or reading on a flat surface utilizes an inefficient posture, as seen through slumped body position, elevated shoulders, and looking down consistently. The slant board brings the line of vision higher, which encourages looking down to promote an upright posture.
  • Allows visual tracking for reading Placing a book or other reading material on a slant board may reduce eye strain. The child does not need to refocus their eyes as they scan through a page since all text remains at the same angle.

There are many slant boards on the market to choose from! It is best to choose one made of stable material and with an adjustable slant. The slant board can be used at home or at school, or anywhere that you child engages in writing, reading or drawing!

 To watch a 2 minute video on how to improve handwriting in children, click here!


How To Make a Weighted Animal

Here at North Shore Pediatric Therapy, we utilize weighted objects for a countless number of activities. They can be used as a self-regulation strategy, providing deep proprioceptive input to your child’s muscles and joints.  Various weighted materials, including vests, belts, blankets, wrist-weights and ankle-weights, are utilized in the clinic multiple times throughout the sock puppetsday. For all of you crafty parents, as well as those who (like me) are “creatively challenged,” below are some DIY instructions to follow so that you can create your very own, personalized weighted animal.

4 Steps To Create Your Very Own Weighted Animal:

Step 1: Find an old knee-high sock. You can choose a sock that is your child’s favorite color or has their favorite cartoon characters on it.
Step 2: Fill the sock with a grainy material, such as rice or sand. Put enough rice in your sock so it is four-fifths of the way full. Tie the open end of the sock closed. There should be enough rice in the sock so when it is draped across your child’s shoulders, it droops down onto their chest. This activity has the added benefit of incorporating direction-following and tactile play into your daily routine.
Step 3: Finally, decorate the sock with “googley eyes” and markers. The sky is the limit as far as whether your sock animal has polka-dots, stripes, zig-zags or checkers.
Step 4: Kick back and relax with your very own personalized weighted animal.

These strategies can be utilized when your child is feeling frustrated or having a difficult time organizing their thoughts. Your child’s weighted animal can also be used for strengthening. When at home, have your child carry the animal around the house or encourage them to sustain various Yoga poses while holding their animal friend. The added resistance while sustaining these poses will only help build muscle strength and improve motor planning. Whether your weighted animal is used as a self-regulation strategy or a strengthening tool, it is up to you and your child’s interests. In either case, creating the animal is a wonderful craft to save for a rainy day and a great way to get the whole family involved. Make one, make two or make a whole zoo of weighted animals. Your child’s new friend is sure to be a hit and cherished companion for years to come.

8 Tips to Ease Homework Time Stress

For many families of middle and high school students, evening time becomes a stress-filled time for everyone. This is due to the fact homework stressthat tired and over-scheduled kids fight to focus to complete their homework. Fortunately, this time can become much more relaxed and productive with a few tweaks to routines and tips to help students to manage their time and work better.

8 Tips to Ease Homework Time Stress:

  1. Start with goals: Prior to making any changes to a homework routine that is not working, sit down with your child to identify their goals around their homework time.  Do they need to create more time?  Focus more effectively?  Remove distractions?  Get started earlier?  A meaningful plan can then be created from these goals with all family members on board.
  2. Create a dedicated space:  All too often, kids complete their homework with a host of distractions nearby: T.V., Internet, phones or other family members doing other things other than work.  Homework is best completed in a quiet space that is free of all distractions.  If the Internet is needed for research, this should be done during a specific time set aside for this purpose. Phones and televisions should be off.
  3. Create a plan: Before tackling any homework assignment, kids should set up a schedule that includes what assignments need to be completed and an estimate of how long each assignment should take to complete. These assignments should then be ordered according to their due date and difficulty level.
  4. Break down big assignments: When creating the homework plan for the evening, it is important to also take into consideration of any long term assignments that have been given. Divide these assignments into several (3-10, depending on the assignment) parts to complete over the course of the time until the assignment is due. Then, the big project is easily absorbed into the week, instead of being a shock the day before it’s due.
  5. Take regular breaks: Kids are unable to focus for longer than 45-50 minutes at a stretch. Plan 10-minute breaks into each hour of homework. The best breaks include some physical movement and/or fresh air.
  6. Keep track of paper: Students should keep assignments and notes for each class in a separate folder or section of a notebook. After completing each assignment at home, papers should go directly back into the appropriate folder.
  7. Identify circadian rhythms: Is your early bird trying to complete homework at 10:00 p.m.? Is your night owl frantically trying to finish homework the morning before school? Work with your child’s natural cycles in order to determine the best homework time for them, given other commitments. An early bird may benefit from rising an hour earlier to get work completed.  A night owl may focus best getting starting after dinner.
  8. Study Smart: Kids learn in many different ways. For example, take a look at Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory in order to identify the way your child learns best. Tailor study time to their strengths. For example, interpersonal learners prefer to interact while learning, therefore, quizzing aloud and studying in groups would suit them well.
If homework time continues to be a struggle for your family, contact one of our Academic Specialists at North Shore Pediatric Therapy. Our Academic Specialists can create a homework time plan specific to your child and family’s needs.


Questions About Medication For Children

For many children, therapy or accommodations are not sufficient to support their needs.  It is often that these children will need child medicationpharmacological intervention to help improve their attentional regulation, impulse control, emotional regulation and/or behavioral self control. Parents should be honest with their pediatrician about medication as well as ask several questions about ensuring the best care.

Questions Parents Should Ask When Determining If Medication Is The Right Choice For Your Child:

  1. What are the side effects of the medication? All medications have side effects and it is important to be aware of what to possibly look out for.
  2. How long should the child be on medication?  It is important to ascertain if the medication is likely a temporarily solution or long-term.
  3. What therapies would be beneficial for the child to participate in while taking medication?  It is often that medication alone is not sufficient. Children will often benefit from specific therapies and interventions to help teach emotional and behavioral regulation.
  4. Who should I tell? My advice about medication is to always inform the academic staff as to when a child starts medication. Many times, the teacher would be able to have a greater watch over the child and monitor whether or not there are experiencing any negative side effects.

Medication is often warranted in a child’s treatment regime. It is always important for parents to ask good questions and work with a treatment team in order to ensure the best success of their child’s social and emotional development.

Nonverbal Learning Disability

The majority of learning disabilities that a child may have are language-based.  These include deficits with the child’s reading boy readingachievement as well as written expression.  Researchers have found that there is a small percentage of children that demonstrate adequate or above average verbal functioning; however, they have significant weakness with their nonverbal reasoning. Researchers and educational specialists have characterized this specific condition as a Nonverbal Learning Disability (NVLD).  Currently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not have a specific diagnosis for these children and, instead, these children are typically diagnosed with a learning disorder that is not otherwise specified.

Areas of Cognitive Weakness in Children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities:

  • Visual-spatial awareness
  • Visual organization
  • Tactile and perceptual reasoning
  • Psychomotor functioning
  • Nonverbal problem solving skills
  • Difficulties with mathematics
  • Pragmatic (social) language
  • Social interactions

Areas of Strength in Children with Nonverbal Learning Disabilities:

  • Rote verbal memory
  • Phonemic awareness
  • Verbal reasoning
  • Reading

It is important to identify children that have speculated NVLD’s areas of strength and weakness in order to develop the most effective intervention plan.  It is often that intervention for these children is multi-faceted and can consist of:  social work support to help with socialization and interaction, speech-language therapy to help with pragmatic language functioning, academic tutoring to help with mathematics and executive functioning support and/or occupational therapy in order to help develop visual spatial functioning, tactile-perceptual reasoning and motor abilities.

Click here to learn all about Learning Disabilities 

Strategies to Boost you Child’s Memory

There are two general types of memory strategies: Internal strategies refer to ways to retrieve information more easily by thinking child memoryabout something in a different way, whereas external strategies refer to ways to compensate utilizing mechanisms outside of your brain to help you remember information. Depending upon the situation, one strategy may be more beneficial than the other.

Try the following strategies with your child to encourage retrieving and storing memories:

Internal Strategies:

  1. Repetition: repeat information aloud or in your head
  2. Visualization: create a mental image of what you are trying to remember
  3. Association: link information to prior life experiences
  4. Chunking/Grouping: link similar items together by category. For example, link items on a grocery list by departments located in the store
  5. Acronyms: create a word or phrase comprised of the first letter of all the letters to be remembered. For example, “ROYGBIV” represents the order of the colors in a rainbow

External Strategies:

  1. Daily planner/Calendars
  2. Organization: keep important objects (e.g. backpacks, school supplies, technology) in the same location
  3. Stick with a schedule: encourage memory by completing routine activities in the same order every day
  4. Alarm clocks
  5. Voice memos
  6. Highlighters/colored pens

Family History and Kids with Special Needs

If you have a brother, nephew, uncle or some other member in your family with certain special needs, you will want to be cautious and family tree mindful that many neurodevelopmental conditions have a high genetic component. Recent studies have indicated that genetics account for 70 to 80 percent of the risk of having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. A 2004 study indicated that there is considerable evidence that demonstrates that genetics play a major role in the risk of having an anxiety disorder. It is important to realize that the risk factors are high; however, they are not necessarily 100%.  This simply means that just because a parent or relative has a neurodevelopmental disorder, it does not mean that the child will exhibit the condition. What it does indicate is that the child is at a higher risk for the condition.

As a parent, it is important to realize that your child may be at risk for a condition if a relative has that same condition. Do not be alarmed; instead, be aware. Always pay attention to any concerns, seek out advice from your pediatrician, psychologist and/or developmental therapist.

There are numerous possible warning signs for the purpose of this blog;  however, below is what to be on the lookout for:

Anxiety:

• Does the child shy away from peers?
• Does the child have sleep onset  issues?
• Does the child engage in behaviors such as picking, biting nails, pacing, etc.?
• Are there fixed routines that the child engages in?

Click here for more on anxiety

ADHD:

• Does the child have difficulty focusing on work?
• Does the child require a lot of redirection and repetition of information?
• Does the child make careless errors with work?
• Does the child always seem to be on-the-go?

Click here for more on ADHD

Autism Spectrum:

• Does the child struggle with initiating and sustaining appropriate eye contact?
• Are there language delays?
• Does the child avoid seeking out others for interaction?
• Does the child avoid engaging in nonverbal behaviors such as gesturing?

The information above should not be considered to be a diagnostic check sheet, but rather possible concerns that might require further assessment. Parents, if you know that there is a family history of a neurodevelopmental condition and you see any of the above signs or symptoms expressed in your child, it is then time to seek further guidance.

Phonics versus Phonemic Awareness ~ What’s the Difference?

Phonics involves seeing letters individually and connecting each one to a specific sound. Letters are broken down into consonants and Child Alphabetvowels. Vowels are broken down into long and short sounds and words are taught by beginning and ending sounds. The order in which letters are taught is in conjunction with typical child development.

What is Phonemic Awareness?

Phonemic Awareness involves the understanding that spoken words are made up of individual sounds; these are known as phonemes. A child who is phonemically aware is able to isolate sounds, manipulate sounds, blend and segment sounds orally and in written words. Essentially, it is the ability to hear the different sounds in speech. Students may not recognize the written letter that accompanies the sounds, but he or she will recognize it in speech. Therefore, phonological awareness comes before phonetic skills.

The following is a simple separation of these two important pre-reading skills:

Phonemic Awareness

  • Main focus is on sounds, or phonemes
  • Deals with spoken language
  • Primarily auditory
  • Students work with manipulating the sounds within words

Phonics

  • Main focus is on graphemes/letters and corresponding sounds
  • Deals with written language, or print
  • Both visual and auditory
  • Students work with reading and writing letters based on their sounds and spelling patterns

Phonics and Phonemic Awareness are similar; however, they serve two distinctive purposes. Proficient use of both skills is the first step in the journey of becoming literate. Despite the many studies and educational debates on teaching these reading skills and others, one thing has remained certain. The more a child is read to the better his or her reading skills will be.

When Should You Hold Your Child Back A Grade?

Many parents are often worried and cautious about their child’s transition from kindergarten to first grade. There are unanswered kindergarten kidsquestions and concerns that the child faces. Oftentimes it may prove beneficial for the child to repeat kindergarten and have another year to develop pre-academic and social skills.

Questions that need to be kept in mind when deciding about holding the child back or moving him or her forward include:

  1. How is your child doing with learning basic academic skills? Is he or she learning all letters, letter sounds, numbers, etc? Is this an area that would need further guidance and assistance?
  2. How is the child doing socially and emotionally? Is your child able to transition readily from the house to the school environment? Does your child have friends and engage in appropriate play with others? How does your child deal with changes in routine?
  3. When is your child’s birthday? If it is a late birthday, holding him or her back might not be that major since he or she will not be much older than the rest of the class.
  4. What are the kindergarten teacher’s thoughts? She has the best opportunity to provide insight about your child’s learning styles and social functioning in comparison to same age peers.
  5. What are your thoughts as parent? Always remember that at the end of the day, you are your child’s best advocate.

Holding a child back in kindergarten is not the worst thing to possibly happen. The child has another year to mature and develop. In addition, the child is able to receive additional intervention and services in order to catch up with peers and ensure that first grade will be the utmost success. Remember, pay now or pay later. If things are pointing to next year being tough and him or her not being ready, don’t rush. It’s great to be mature for your grade.

Is Your Child Just Disorganized, or Is It a Bigger Problem?

Do you find that your evenings and mornings are primarily spent helping your child track down missing work or lost items andmessy child generally trying to help them get organized enough to manage their school day and extra-curricular activities? Is assisting your child too much interfering with family time and leisure time? Is this causing your family and your child stress? This scene is common in many families with middle and high school children that should be starting to manage their own lives. These problems are often caused by a weakness in Executive Functioning Skills: the skills that allow us to manage ourselves and our time with the resources we have. These skills are critical when it comes to being successful in school, but these skills are not often not taught in the classroom.

 The following are the Executive Functioning skills:

  • Emotional Control:  The ability to regulate emotions in order to stay productive and complete a task
  • Initiation: The ability to start a task independently
  • Planning/Organization: The ability to plan and organize one’s time, assignments and activities effectively
  • Shift: The ability to move from one task to another
  • Working memory:  The ability to hold information in the mind for completing a task
  • Inhibitions:  Stopping impulses at the right time in order to stay focused and accomplish the task at hand

Executive functioning coaching addresses weaknesses in executive functioning skills. Executive functions develop throughout childhood and continue to develop into early adulthood. Often, executive functioning difficulties become apparent for the first time during adolescence (although they may reveal themselves earlier). Poor or underdeveloped executive functioning skills may result in several difficulties for children, including emotional difficulties, risk-taking behavior, compulsive behaviors and attention problems. All of these may ultimately cause many issues in the self-esteem and functioning of the child and family, both in and out of school.

If executive functioning weaknesses are suspected, a neuropsychologist will be able to diagnose specific areas that need to be improved. A directed, executive functioning coaching program designed to address these challenges will result in a marked improvement in the current and future functioning of the child. North Shore Pediatric Therapy offers both individual executive functioning coaching programs and intensive workshop experiences to teach these vital skills. Contact us to schedule your appointment today.

*Cooper-Kahn, Joyce, Dietzel, Laurie. Late, Lost and Unprepared: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning: Woodbine House Inc: 2008.
Rush University Executive Functioning Curriculum Training
https://www.aboutkidshealth.com.ca/En/News/Series/Executive Function/Pages/Executive Function