Sensory Tips for Crowded Holiday Spaces

The holidays are a festive, fun and exciting time to celebrate with family and friends; however, they also bring about a plethora of sensory stimuli everywhere you go! Between the sights, sounds, smells and crowds our senses are overloaded with the spirit of the holiday season. For some people, particularly children with sensory processing difficulties, this time of year can cause stress, anxiety and uneasiness. blog-holiday-sensory tips-main-landscape

In addition to increased environmental stimuli around the holidays, typical routines are thrown off due to breaks from school and travel plans. Children with sensory processing difficulties benefit from a schedule that is predictable, so they know exactly what to expect and how to plan for new or different sensory experiences.

Below are 8 sensory tips to help make the holidays and crowded holiday spaces more enjoyable for your whole family:

  1. Prepare your child for the various events that he will experience over the holidays including specific parties, shopping events or travel. Give explanations of where you are going, what you will do there, what he may see, hear or smell. This will help him to know what to expect at these different places without being worried.
  2. Practice! Before going to various holiday events or places, practice. Stop by the mall with your child for a few minutes a few times before the holiday season, spend time at family or friend’s houses that will be visited over the holidays or visit the airport a few times ahead of your travel day. Giving your child an opportunity to experience these places when they are not as crowded will help him be successful during the busy times.
  3. Use a visual calendar that identifies daily activities over the holidays so your child feels comfortable with their winter break routine. Review each day’s events prior to leaving the house, so your child can better prepare himself for what to expect.
  4. Review pictures or videos from the previous year’s holiday events to remind your child of the sights, sounds, smells and crowds he will experience.
  5. Be prepared! During over stimulating situations your child may benefit from sensory strategies such as headphones, ear plugs, sunglasses, weighted objects or a favorite toy. Be sure to be prepared with these items during crowded holiday events. These strategies will help decrease the intensity of environmental stimuli.
  6. Be proactive! If you see your child becoming upset or overstimulated, find a place to take a break from the situation (bathroom, car, quiet hallway) and help him calm down.
  7. Arm your child with strategies ahead of time to help him through a situation where he feels he is becoming upset or overwhelmed. Strategies such as deep breathing or counting to 10 may help decrease anxiety. Encourage your child to let you know when he feels he needs a break.
  8. Talk to family members and friends about the difficulties your child may have and educate them on how they can help.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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10 Festive Activities to Get Your Family in the Holiday Spirit

You’d have to be crazy to say you live in Chicago for the winters, but you’re not crazy to say you love the holiday season in the city. From light parades to ice skating rinks, there are plenty of blog-holiday-activities-2-main-landscapeholiday activities to help get your family feeling festive.

Here is a list of 10 holiday activities around the city for a classic Chicago holiday season:

  1. Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza. Christkindlmarket is an open-air, European holiday market in Daley Plaza featuring traditional art, handmade gifts, German foods, beer, hot spiced wine, choirs, and carolers. Free admission!
  2. The Great Tree at Macy’s Walnut Room. Expect to wait to get a table in the Walnut Room. You can see the Great Tree from the eighth floor of the store.
  3. Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park. ZooLights at the Lincoln Park Zoo features millions of holiday lights, ice carvings, music, carousel rides, train rides, food, and gift shopping. Free entry.
  4. Ice Skating at Maggie Daley Park. Admission is free, but skate rental is $12 during the week and $14 on the weekend. The ice ribbon will be open through the first week of March.
  5. Winter WonderFest at Navy Pier. Festival Hall at Navy Pier becomes an indoor Winter WonderFest for the holidays, with music, carnival rides, and entertainment. Expect crowds. Free entry.
  6. Shopping on Michigan Avenue. View the festive lights, people watch the tourists and get some shopping done before stopping for a delicious holiday lunch at one of the city’s many restaurants in the area.
  7. A Christmas Carol. The Goodman Theatre’s annual holiday production of the Charles Dickens classic enters its 39th year with seasonal charm intact.
  8. Christmas Around the World. View more than 50 trees and displays at the Museum of Science and Industry’s Christmas Around the World exhibit, a Chicago tradition since 1942. Each tree is decorated by volunteers from Chicago’s many communities, representing their diverse culture and holiday customs.
  9. Morton Arboretum Holiday Lights. Parents and children alike will love the 50 acres of vibrant LED lights that are hung on the Morton Arboretum’s vast treescape, creating a kaleidoscopic winter wonderland. This year’s “Illumination: Tree Lights” is wowing audiences already; it’s absolutely worth the drive out to Lisle.
  10. A Charlie Brown Christmas. With The Peanuts Movie introducing Charles M. Schulz’s characters to a new generation of kids, Emerald City Theatre and Broadway in Chicago bring the classic TV special about the true meaning of Christmas to the stage.

We wish you a happy holiday season and a happy new year!

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A Sensory Friendly Fourth of July | Facebook Live Video

The 4th of July is a fun holiday and takes some preparation! Watch one of our expert Occupational Therapists who covered red flags and shared tips on how to ensure your child has a sensory friendly 4th of July.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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A Sensory Friendly Fourth of July

The Fourth of July can be an exciting and eventful time for most children, but for a child with sensorySensory Friendly processing difficulties, it can become overwhelming. Children with hypersensitivities to visual and auditory input may have a difficult time staying regulated and engaging in the activities that this holiday has to offer.

Here are some strategies for you and your child to have a sensory friendly holiday:

  1. Although fireworks can be a fun event for your family to attend, many children find the excess noise to be overwhelming. One strategy that might be helpful is to utilize noise-canceling headphones. If these are unavailable to you any type of ear buds you may have lying around the house could also help to muffle the sounds of fireworks. The bright flashing lights of fireworks can also be discomforting to a child with visual hypersensitivities. Bring along some shaded glasses to help block out some of that excess light.
  2. Parades may also be a very overwhelming activity for your child to engage in. The large crowds, loud music and bright colors can all be very stimulating and your child may have difficulties handling this overstimulation. One strategy that you could implement would be to avoid the crowd and watch from afar. Look around for a nearby building that you could watch from a window or find a designated area with fewer people.
  3. For a sensory seeking child you may want to create some sensory bins or activities for your child to engage in to help them feel more regulated. Mix red and blue paint into shaving cream (or uncooked colored rice or noodles to avoid the mess) and hide 4th of July themed items for your child to find. Your child may also need to engage in some heavy work activities before going to fireworks, parade, etc. so that he/she is regulated before these events. Some heavy work activities may include animal walks, carrying, pulling or lifting heavier objects, climbing, or crashing into pillows/cushions.
  4. Bring familiar items with you to these events to provide your child the comfort of home. Bring a favorite blanket or toy and let your child utilize it at times when they are feeling overwhelmed.
  5. Also remember to set expectations for your child. Let them know what the plan is for the day so they are more prepared for what they may encounter. Let them help you in planning out what to do for the day. This will make them feel more comfortable in these settings and can also give them the feeling that they have a choice. Having a plan will reduce anxiety for a child who is rigid or struggles with change. Visual schedules can also help to prompt your child as to what activities you have planned for the day. You can bring this along with you and take it out while transitioning from one activity to the next as a reminder.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

For additional information, watch our Facebook recording of A Sensory Friendly Fourth of July:

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costumes and tactile sensitivities

Find the Right Halloween Costume for a Child with Tactile Sensitivities

Halloween can be a parent’s worst nightmare when attempting to find the right costume for a child with tactile overresponsivity (which occurs when the nervous system experiences touch sensations at a higher, more intense rate than others)[1]. Children with tactile hypersensitivities often reject the feeling of unfamiliar touch that comes with many Halloween costumes, such as itchy netting, smooth silk, scratchy wool, bumpy corduroy, or denim with tight elastic bands. Read below for suggestions on how to improve the process of searching for Halloween costumes for these children.

Find the Right Halloween Costume for a Child with Tactile Sensitivities:

  • Select a fabric you know the child will tolerate. It may sound obvious, but recognizing yourFind the Right Costume for a Child with Tactile Sensitivities child’s limits is the first step to celebrating a successful Halloween. If the child is extremely set on a specific costume, but you are unsure if your child will be able to tolerate it, make sure to try it on and then adapt as needed. For example, having them wear a tight compression long sleeve shirt underneath for children who are hypersensitive to touch can improve their comfort and independence while wearing the outfit, and keep them warm at the same time! For girls, wearing leggings instead of tights can be a simple fix for girls who are resistive to wearing tights with their outfit.
  • Avoid costumes with uncomfortable headwear, face paint, or tight fixtures around the waist and abdomen. This external stimuli can be extremely disorganizing to the child who experiences tactile sensitivities, as light touch receptors are abundant in the area of the head and face. Moreover, the abdomen has additional receptors that respond negatively to external touch.
  • Let your child pave the way for success. If your child chooses a special character, modifying the costume by using a themed t-shirt with comfortable, familiar legwear can still allow them the opportunity to dress in festive gear, but will give the child the ability to feel comfortable at the same time.
  • Accessorize! If wearing a dress, face paint, or tight fitting outfit is too much for your child, adding in extra accessories to dress up the costume can be fun and festive. Fairy wands, toy pets, or miniature figurines of the character they are representing can be a fun way for others to recognize their costume.


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[1] [1] Kranowitz, C. (2005). How to Tell if Your Child Has a Problem with the Tactile Sense. In The out-of-sync child: Recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder (Rev. and updated ed.). New York: A Skylight Press Book/A Perigee Book.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

spring break

Spring Break: Tips for the “Staycationing” Family

,Spring break is here. You decided to take the week off work and have a “Staycation” with your family. Now what? Use this time to enjoy with your family…but don’t derail a schedule and development the school year brings.

Spring Break Staycation Do’s:Spring Break

  • Do start the day off writing a schedule of “Fun” things to do with your child.
  • Do give each child a chance to pick something they want to add to the schedule so they each feel like they have a say in the day and are excited for their choice!
  • Do play a board game.
  • Do go outside and ride bikes, go for a walk, go to the park, etc.
  • Do bake some cookies that the kids can decorate!
  • Do an arts and crafts project using things around the house.
  • Do have a dance party or play Dance Revolution on your Wii.
  • Do for children ages 3-10, make a book: staple paper together and have your child dictate the story to you (or write it themselves depending on age). Then let them illustrate it!
  • Do make a picnic instead of your typical lunch. Set up a blanket in the yard and enjoy!
  • Do write a social story so kids know what to expect during this off time
  • Do use a visual schedule each day during break
  • Do keep your child on a proper sleep schedule or your tired child will not make vacation fun
  • Do use these days to have quality time with your children!

Spring Break Staycation Don’ts:

  • Don’t plop yourself or your kids in front of the TV all day.
  • Don’t allow any nagging! Only smiles and fun suggestions!
  • Don’t try to work on your day off.
  • Don’t waste the day eating junk food and supplying it to your children.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

 

5 fun holiday break activities

No Video Games Allowed: Five Secrets to a Successful Holiday Break

I cannot tell you the number of times that I have heard parents say that the kids are getting bored and that they (the parents) are at their wit’s end…two days into the much-anticipated (and dreaded?) winter break. There are only so many times you can watch Frozen or play Minecraft before everyone loses it! So, what if for this winter break we start a new tradition…in the form of an “unplugged” winter break? The following is a list of five non-television and video game-related activities that are bound to keep the kids entertained, their brains active, and you sane!

Five Activities for a Successful Holiday Break:

  • Go Local: Whether it is the children’s museum or that exhibit at the aquarium you have been meaning to visit, 5 fun holiday break activitiesmake the trip! Many of the museums offer special discounts on specific days or may even have special events going on for children during the break.
  • Indoor “Laser” Obstacle Course: Hang up yarn from one end of the room to another multiple times until the yarn crosses over itself. Put “prizes” on one end of the room and try to make it from one end to the other while not coming into contact with the yarn. For added fun, turn it into a race against time, or add furniture for more obstacles.
  • Top Chef©_ Children’s Edition: This may be messy…but well worth the fun! Set out a number of ingredients and have kids mix and create new dishes. Set up a “judge’s table” and let everyone try the masterpieces and vote on the best dish!
  • Indoor Scavenger Hunt: Make a list of random items (or things that you have lost if you are really trying to make the hunt efficient) and award point values for the various items. If you live in a neighborhood with lots of children, make it a block event!
  • Camping Out – Inside: Unless you are fortunate enough to be in a warm climate, or you want to brave the cold, try setting up a tent (made of blankets or otherwise) in front of the fire place. Have a camping-inspired dinner of hot dogs, beans, and S’mores! All the fun of camping WITH running water? Sounds like a win to me!

Want to get out of the house? Check out our Winter Break 2015: Chicago Family Activity Guide.

6 Classic Books to Read This Christmas Eve

6 Classic Christmas Books to Read this Christmas Eve

Christmas is almost here! Get in the spirit and promote language and literacy skills at the same time by reading some of these Classic Christmas books with your family!

6 Classic Christmas Books:6 Classic Christmas Books to Read This Christmas Eve

  1. The Night Before Christmas by Charles Santore
  2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess
  3. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer by Thea Feldman (Illustrated by Erwin Madrid)
  4. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  5. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Chuck Fischer
  6. The Nut Cracker by E. t. a. Hoffman, Geraldine McCaughrean (Illustrated by Kristina Swarner)

Want more holiday fun? Try these 13 crafts to promote fine motor development!

chicago 2015 holiday activity guide

Winter Break 2015: Chicago Family Activity Guide

Ahh the Holidays! It really is my favorite time of year. I love all the traditions, music, and the Holiday spirit! This can be an especially fun time when you share it with little ones. I love to see the joy on their faces as they experience a bit of that holiday magic! That is until they are faced with boredom and cabin fever, then no one is happy! Luckily there are plenty of options for holiday fun for all ages in the Chicagoland area. There are too many options to name, but here are a few good ideas to get you started for a fun holiday break with your family.

Holiday Lights

Okay, okay. Maybe I’m stating the obvious a bit here. Holiday Lights are probably the first thing that jump to your mindchicago 2015 holiday activity guide when looking for a great winter weather activity, but read on all the same. Maybe there are some new options to consider.

Morton Arboretum – Lisle, IL – I pass this location every day during my commute, and I always get excited when the lights start to go up. This is certainly one of the most beautiful displays I’ve seen. They do offer events for young children, but this may be a better option if you have older kids who would enjoy this more than the blinking cartoon displays at other locations. This seems a bit more “classy.”

Zoo Lights – Chicago, IL or Brookfield, IL – This is a great evening outing for the entire family. Zoo lights are even better than most light shows, because you can see animals, and participate in other activities as well. Just bundle up, and be prepared for a bit of walking. I recommend you bring a stroller or wagon. Even if your little one is at that “I wanna walk by myself” age, you may want to bring the stroller as backup.

Holiday Trolley Express – Carol Stream, IL – This is a great somewhat indoor option that can help you avoid sensory overload or cranky fits from frozen fingers. The Carol Stream Park District offers a festive trolley ride to enjoy some of the beautiful light displays in the area, followed by some holiday fun.

Christmas Around the World – Museum of Science and Industry – This is a fabulous option, not only for great light displays, but also for tons of other fun stuff to do. Museum of Science and Industry sets up beautiful trees with decorations from around the world. Check their website in advance, because they also offer free holiday concerts or other events. When I went last year there was a Russian Children’s Choir performing holiday classics in Russian. It was beautiful, and a nice relaxing retreat from the hustle and bustle of the museum.

Santa Claus

Ho! Ho! Ho! Again, I’m probably stating another obvious one here. Everyone knows you have to visit Santa at Christmas time! But what if your child can’t handle the sensory overload of a busy shopping mall or wait in the long line without a meltdown? Don’t worry. Santa doesn’t just sit at the mall all day! He likes to get out and meet kids at Holiday parties or pancake breakfasts. Here are some other Santa alternatives.

Breakfast or Lunch with Santa – Check your local listings. Many park districts, Boy Scout troops, or even rotary clubs offer pancake breakfasts with Santa for a reasonable amount. I even found one in Rolling Meadows that is free if you bring a canned food donation. Sit back and enjoy a nice breakfast with your family, and wait your turn to meet Santa in peace. Sometimes he may even have a chance to come over to your table and greet you!

Holiday Express – Again, check your local listings. I started to look at all the options, and there were too many to type! Almost every park district seems to be offering a fun “Polar Express” type outing this year. Enjoy a nice holiday train ride (Hooray, another indoor light show option too!) to the North Pole and meet Santa. Many of these train rides are also a pajama party like in the movie, and offer hot cocoa or other goodies.

Hannukkah Fun

Hanukkah oh Hanukkah! There are lots of fun ways to enjoy the Festival of Lights in the Chicagoland area. Here are a few of the most exciting suggestions I found.

Menorah Workshop – select Home Depot locations – enjoy Hanukkah snacks while you learn to make your own menorahs!

Hanukkah Concerts – There are many options out there for concerts as well, but I recommend you look into the one at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

Hanukkah Happenings – Vernon Hills, IL – raffles, crafts, photos, dreidel spinning, and more!

Hanukkah Party: A Special Time for Families with Special Needs – Northbrook, IL – I couldn’t have been more excited when I heard about this! This is a great opportunity for some of our own families from here at North Shore Pediatric Therapy to get together and enjoy the holiday. Celebrate with music, games, a candle lighting, and the Hanukkah story.

Indoor Alternatives

Candy and Craft activities – check your local park district, library, Home Depot, craft store, or candy store. Many are offering free or inexpensive classes to make candy, holiday cookies, ornaments, or holiday decorations.

Doll Tea Party (with Fancy Nancy) – Arlington Heights Park District – I went to many Doll Tea parties as a girl, and I loved them! Let your little one dress up like their doll for extra fun.

Holiday movies – many of the small local theatres offer a free or $1 screening of holiday classics. Check with your local theatre for more information.

Frozen® party – Heller Nature Center – Highland Park, IL – Let it go! Let it go, and let the kids go have a blast. This sounds like a ton of fun. It makes me want to braid my hair and hug a snowman, but unfortunately this ones for kids only. Darn it!

Grinch’s candy cane hunt – Park Ridge, IL – Why wait until Easter when you can have a candy cane hunt right now?!

See, there is no reason to get the Winter blues! There are plenty of exciting options out there. For more great ideas check out Oaklee’s Guide or Chicago Kids, or check with your local library and park district. Whether you stay in, or go out, enjoy your holiday season. Happy Holidays!





holiday gifts: toys to promote age appropriate developmental skills

Holiday Gifts: Toys to Promote Age-Appropriate Developmental Skills

As the holiday season approaches us, so starts the mad dash to buy everyone’s wish-list toys. Toy stores will provide you with a plethora of options from electronic gadgets to doll sets. But remember, toys can also help to improve skills, confidence and overall development! Before you go running to the stores, let’s stop and examine the toys that promote developmental skills from an occupational therapy perspective.

4 Toys for Fine Motor Development:holiday gifts: toys to promote age appropriate developmental skills

  1. Automoblox – Suitable for children 2+ years, Automoblox allow your child to explore their creative side! The interchangeable wheels, rims, tops, and bumpers promote manipulation skills.
  2. Tinker Toys – For ages 3+, this building set offers hundreds of options for creation as your child uses not only their fine motor skills, but their visual motor skills as well!
  3. Pop Beads – Pop them in and pop them out! These beads promote fine motor precision as your child becomes a jewelry designer. In addition, the resistive aspect of the Pop Beads improves fine motor strength.
  4. Spirograph – Your childhood comes back to life as you watch your child create beautiful circular patterns. As popular as ever, the Spirograph’s interlocking gears promote fine motor precision and control. Suitable for ages 5+.

4 Toys for Gross Motor Development:

  1. Rody Inflatable Hopping Horse– For children ages 3-5, this updated hippity-hop encourages posture and balance.
  2. Cat in the Hat I Can Do That Game– Can you tip toe around the Trick-a-ma-stick while balancing a cake on your head? I bet you can! This silly multi-player game encourages gross motor development through various animal walks and balancing activities. Great for ages 4-8.
  3. ALEX toys, Monkey Balance Board – This adorable board is great to practice balance skills, weight-shifting and leg strength. The durable wood is great for indoors and out, so this board will last you well into the next winter season! Great for little feet ages 3+.
  4. Skip-It – This 90’s game is still skipping strong! The Skip-It encourages gross motor coordination, balance, and encourages a child to separate the sides of their body, increasing body awareness skills.

4 Toys for Sensory Play Development:

  1. Lakeshore Scented Dough– Can your child tell the difference between the cherry and the grape? This dough encourages olfactory development as your child kneads, pinches and sculpts the dough into shapes and characters.
  2. Wonderworld Sensory Blocks– These little blocks, designed for children ages 18 months and older, encourage visual, auditory and tactile discrimination skills.
  3. Touchy Feely– A Marbles the Brain Store game, it encourages tactile discrimination for texture, shape, and temperatures.
  4. Melissa and Doug Deluxe Band Set – A mom-approved band for your child to star in! A great way for your child to control the amount of auditory stimulation in their environment and be exposed to various sounds!

4 toys for Executive Functioning Skill Development:

  1. Sequence for Kids– A family-friendly game for ages 3-6, this game is great for attention, problem solving, and as the title suggests, Sequencing skills! The best part, if you love it, you can buy the adult version as well!
  2. Busy Town Eye Found It – Richard Scarry’s beloved children’s book comes to life in an eye-spy inspired game. Race through Busy Town looking for hidden pictures promoting attention, cooperation and visual motor skills! Great for a group of kids ages 3+.
  3. Rush Hour – Help the red car get out of a traffic jam! For your older child (ages 8+), this game promotes problem-solving skills, sequencing, attention and organization.
  4. Simon Swipe– Follow the color pattern and focus on strengthening your attention, sequencing and memory skills! This game is great for solo play or to play with a friend! (ages 8+)

 

These are toys your kids will enjoy now, and they build skills that will last a lifetime! Happy holiday shopping from North Shore Pediatric Therapy!