Executive Functioning Basics

Executive functions (EF) are a fancy way to explain our everyday problem-solving strategies. EF are self-regulated behaviors that we executive functioning girlneed in order to plan, execute and maintain activities.

Observable Executive Functioning behaviors include:

  • Initiation
  • Organization
  • Transitioning
  • Inhibition
  • Goal-setting
  • Monitoring own behavior
  • Planning
  • Sequencing information
  • Self-control

Complications in any one of these areas may create difficulties in a child’s school as well as life at home. It is not uncommon for many children to have issues in EF at some point. In fact, it is the “norm” and it is related to the child’s developing brain. EF skills begin to emerge at an early school age and continue to develop into the early 20’s. In some cases, altering the environment is all that is needed in order to help children that are weaker in these skills.

Classroom accommodations for Executive Functioning:

  • Use a visual schedule on the wall or the child’s desk to reduce difficulties with transitions
  • Break-up assignments into smaller tasks in order to help with initiation and organization of tasks
  • Develop time lines for longer-term assignments
  • Utilize check lists as well as planners in order to stay organized and set appropriate goals
  • Perform a weekly clean-up of the child’s desk and locker to keep belongings organized
  • Provide specific feedback when the child demonstrates positive use of a skill

Home accommodations for Executive Functioning:

  • A visual or written schedule can be just as effective and necessary in the home environment
  • Set and enforce routines around daily activities (e.g., getting ready in the morning, homework, bedtime, etc.)
  • Weekly organizing of book bag and work area
  • Teach goal-setting behaviors by developing a plan to work towards a desired goal (e.g., special activity, material possession, etc.)
  • Model self-calming strategies and have the child practice these strategies
  • Develop independence in daily activities by labeling drawers and encourage independent follow through
  • Provide specific positive feedback for demonstration and effort

For an Executive Functioning checklist and more on EF, click here!

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ADHD Parenting Tips

Do you feel as if your child has a difficult time with paying attention and staying organized? Does your child struggle to plan ahead, adhd girlcontrol impulses or complete tasks? Life can be challenging and, at times, frustrating with a child that has ADHD. Some of the keys to positively handling situations such as these are to develop compassion for your child as well as use consistent strategies. Below are some tips to assist you and your family.

6 Tips For Parents of Children With ADHD:

Tip #1: Stay positive and healthy yourself

A positive attitude can go a long way towards modeling healthy behaviors for your child. Focus on taking care of yourself, whether that is through exercising, taking time for an enjoyable activity, reading, enjoying a personal hobby or even taking a relaxing walk with a pet while you focus on breathing. Your state of mind greatly impacts the richness in your interaction with your child. When you are in a positive state, you are also more open and engaged with the child.

Tip #2: Establish structure and stick to it

Discover ways to incorporate a routine and try to simplify your child’s tasks. Consistency is very important so the child knows what to expect and when to expect tasks. Do your best to stay neat and organized in order to better assist the child in modeling healthy behaviors.

Tip #3: Set clear expectations and rules

Communicate clear guidelines and rules so that the child understands what is to be expected of them. It can be helpful to break down the expectations in simple statements or steps as well as write them down for the child to remember and reference.

Tip #4: Encourage movement and sleep

Encourage the child to exercise and become involved in activities that interest them. Make sure that your child is getting an appropriate amount of sleep as insufficient sleep can increase the inattentiveness and may lead to over-stimulation. Other tips include decreasing television time, creating a time before the child goes to bed to “wind down” by engaging in quieter activities. One of my favorite activities is reading a child’s favorite bedtime story or having the child read the story to me.

Tip #5: Help your child eat right

Help your child eat a balanced diet that includes fresh foods, fruits and vegetables. Children with ADHD are more prone to skip meals or eat unbalanced meals. Assist your child with eating healthy so that their bodies are receiving the proper nutrients for an activity. One way in which you can assist him/her with this is to get the child involved in meal planning and decisions for daily/weekly meals.

Tip #6: Teach your child how to make friends

Children with attention or hyperactivity difficulties sometimes have a difficult time making and keeping friends. Work with your child in order to improve their social skills by role-playing and choosing playmates carefully who also have similar language or physical skills.

To learn more about ADHD click here

 

Reference: www.helpguide.org/mental/adhd_add_parenting_strategies.htm, Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D

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Handwriting Without Tears (HWT): Why it is a Great Approach to Teaching Handwriting

Handwriting is taught to children that are as young as preschool age. Children begin learning how to write the letters in their name and handwriting without tears they will usually start with their first name. Handwriting can be taught in a variety of ways, depending upon your child’s teacher as well as the curriculum within the school. It is important to teach your child in the same manner in comparison as to how he or she is learning in school in order to see the greatest success and to provide the most consistency. Overall, when teaching handwriting, it is crucial to provide your child with plenty of verbal and visual cues in order to help the child memorize the appearance and feel of the letters.

Below are some of the highlights to the Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) program, which makes the handwriting process quite successful and simple to follow for the children, parents and teachers alike:

  • HWT works sequentially, initially teaching all of the upper case letters and then all of the lower case letters. Lastly, all of the cursive letters. this process is more effective compared to jumping around.
  • HWT utilizes simple terminology to describe how the letters are formed (e.g. Big Line, Little Line, Big Curve and Little Curve).
  • HWT focuses on right/left discrimination in order to help the child determine his/her dominant hand (hand which holds pencil/utensils). It also focuses on helping the child to help him/her be aware of the right side of the body versus the left side of the body.
  • HWT emphasizes the quality of your child’s handwriting rather than the quantity (e.g. Writing 5 correct “A’s” versus writing 10 sloppy “A’s”).
  • HWT utilizes several whole-body activities to help the child in retaining the information (e.g. Music and Movement; Imaginary Writing and Letter Sizes and Places).

As you can see above, there are many perks to using the Handwriting Without Tears (HWT) Program at home and in school. If your child’s school does not use this program, you may still gain many great strategies and knowledge from the HWT website. Please feel free to  speak with your child’s occupational therapist if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s handwriting or fine motor skills. Similarly, stay tuned for my next blog on HWT Three Stages of Learning.

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5 Major Differences between an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Plan

Your child has been identified to be falling behind in school in some way. Perhaps they are scoring below expected levels on iep and 504achievement tests or maybe they are exhibiting symptoms of inattention or become easily distracted. These symptoms may be keeping them from learning up to their potential. In another case, they may have an identified medical or emotional disorder that impacts them academically. Children can have a number of challenges that may impact them in the school environment. What can be done about these challenges? There are two formal plans that can be implemented: Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. Below are five differences between the two plans:

IEP versus 504 Plan:

  1. An IEP is for children who qualify for special education services. To qualify, your child must have a documented learning disability, developmental delay, speech impairment or significant behavioral disturbance. Special education is education that offers an individualized learning format (e.g., small group, pull out, one-on-one). In contrast, a 504 Plan does not include special education services. Instead, a 504 Plan involves classroom accommodations, such as behavioral modification and environmental supports.
  2. An IEP requires a formal evaluation process as well as a multi-person team meeting to construct. A 504 Plan is less formal and usually involves a meeting with the parents and teacher(s). Both plans are documented and recorded.
  3. An IEP outlines specific, measurable goals for each child. These goals are monitored to ensure appropriate gains. A 504 Plan does not contain explicit goals.
  4. An IEP requires more regularly occurring reviews of progress, approximately every 3 months. A 504 Plan is usually reviewed at the beginning of each school year.
  5. A 504 Plan does not cost the school or district any additional money to provide. On the other hand, an IEP requires school funds to construct and execute.

To watch a webinar called: Getting the Most out of an I.E.P, click here.

 

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Reading: It Comes in Stages

Child reading

Reading can sometimes appear to be an overnight skill, and there are even children who “teach themselves” to read before they reach the first grade. Often, it is a wonder that kids enter one grade with minimal letter knowledge and leave reading books on their own. It has been my experience that the skill of reading is often taken for granted. I was a quick reader (one of those annoying overnight type learners), but my sister struggled every step of the way. Now, as I work with children in early elementary school who are having difficulty with this skill, I have learned more and more to appreciate how tricky it is and how many skills go into the act of reading.

To better understand the process of learning to read, and to appreciate the lengths we’re pushing children every time we sit down with a story, I have listed the multiple steps of reading below:

  • First, kids see symbols and associate a symbol with an item- in simple terms, it’s like all of us recognizing those “golden arches” as a potential snack, drink, or rest break while driving on the highway.
  • Next, letters are identified.
  • Then, not only are  letters  identified, but they are also associated with the sounds they create in words (if we’re talking vowels, that list is LONG, whereas for consonants it’s typically only two or so- the hard and soft ‘g’ for example). Children at this stage are called “decoders.” That means they’re taking every letter and painstakingly identifying it, associating a sound, and blending one to the next and so on. I imagine the inner monologue of a six year old learning the skill to be something like this: “oh, that’s a B, b makes buh, ok and next is u, u can be you or uh….let’s see what comes next, g, ok g can say jee or guh, let’s put it together, boooj…no, buuug, no BUG, that’s it.” It’s no wonder that kids at this stage can sometimes get through a whole page, without a clue as to the meaning of the words. Their full attention was on decoding, not comprehending.
  • Some kids are wonderful decoders from the beginning; they have great sound and letter awareness and quickly make the leap to the next step, which involves “chunking” sounds together. Most importantly, kids must learn to chunk vowels which commonly occur together (like the ‘oa’ in boat and the ‘oo’ in boot). They also learn to recognize common words on sight, rather than expending effort fully decoding every word. At this stage, children sound much more fluent and less halting, and their intonation begins to match the meaning of sentences. This is because they are able to spend less energy on decoding and more energy on comprehension.
  • Even beyond this stage of an apparently competent reader, demands are increased – most notably in third grade. Children in third grade are expected to make the switch from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” That is often why children who fared well in early grades bump into difficulty in third and fourth grade “out of nowhere.” It is likely that their reading skills just have not developed to the point where they are now a tool to support learning, as opposed to a developing skill.

Support your kids’ reading skills- practice makes perfect and support makes practice bearable! Seek out assistance or evaluation if you feel your child could benefit. I feel (and I hope many agree) that it’s better to be proactive than reactive in literacy learning, so that reading can be a pleasurable pastime rather than a dreaded task.

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Teaching Your Child How to Spell

The ability to spell is a critical component for children to have in order to be successful in school and beyond.  The following ideas willgirl spelling help you teach your emergent reader to be a great speller:

Make Connections:

Spelling is best-learned in context. Several contexts can be provided for effective spelling instruction, such as word groupings and subject context.

First, spelling can be taught using the word grouping, also known as the word study method. This method teaches kids to make discoveries that involve patterns in words. For example, when studying words that begin with a hard ‘c’ or hard ‘k’ sound, children will discover that words that begin with a hard ‘c’ sound are usually followed by ‘a’, ‘u’ or ‘o’ (cat, cut, cot) and letters that start with a hard ‘k’ sound are often followed by ‘e’ or ‘I’ (key, kit). Children are then able to use the generalizations that they discover to spell more effectively.

Subject context can also help with teaching spelling. Is your child interested in trains? Gather a list of spelling words from a lesson on trains that will delight your child. Does your child have a favorite story? Focus on spelling words that are drawn from the story. When children are familiar with the words and have seen them in action in a favorite story or subject, they will be able to absorb the correct spelling more effectively.

Focus on All Sounds:

The ability to break down letters into their smallest sound or phoneme is also critical for spelling success. As you read with your child, be sure to teach all sounds the letters make including short and long vowel sounds, all consonant sounds, blends (bl, cl, tr, gr…), digraphs (th, ch…) and diphthongs (ow, ay…).  When children know these sounds, they will be able to break down words in order to spell.

Get Creative with Words During Play Time:

Aside from direct spelling instruction, the best way to help your child to become a strong speller is to encourage creativity and play with words during their free time. Have your child write a letter to Santa or to a far away relative during the holiday season. Create plays or short stories together and ‘publish’ them by adding a colorful cover. Use finger paints or iPad apps, such as “Elmo ABC’s” to encourage tracing, which is a fun way to reinforce letter sequence.

In general, spelling is best taught through a context of reading strategies and through experiences. The more integrated the spelling lesson is, the better. Have fun spelling, reading and playing with your child this holiday season!

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Works cited:
http://childdevelopmentinfo.com/learning/spelling.shtml
www.readingrockets.org/article/80/
www.specialized.about.com/od/literacy/a/spell.htm

Engaging Your Newborn Baby: 5 Simple Tips for Interacting with Your Baby

As a new parent, chances are that you have spent countless hours just gazing into your newborn’s eyes. However, between nonstop feedings, washing copious amounts of laundry, all of those diaper changes , and trying to sneak in a nap, some new parents may feel left in the dark when it comes to play time.  As your baby starts to become more interactive daily, you may quietly think to yourself, “Well, now what?”.

mom and infant playing

Here are some simple activities you can do with your baby throughout the day to help lay the appropriate foundation for language development:

Never underestimate the power of a smile

Babies love to look at faces. Even at an early age, they are able to be easily engaged and will focus on exaggerated facial expressions for a brief period of time. Therefore, take moments throughout the day to block off some face-to-face time. You will be amazed at how attentive your baby is during these times, and you will see him/her start to attempt to imitate the facial movements you make (especially with your tongue). They’ll get a kick out of seeing you smile, and how can you resist staring back at that adorable little toothless grin?

Turn bath time into play time

Bath time provides many opportunities for sensory exploration, so help maximize this time as much as you can by offering various textures of objects (washcloth, bubbles, water toys etc.) that contain different sensory properties. Talk about how the items look and feel, and even sing to your child during this time as well. Your baby will be calmed by the warmth of the water and soothed by the sound of your voice. Also, try to time bath time immediately before putting your child to bed in order to establish a nighttime routine.

Introduce books

You will help to facilitate a lifelong love of reading and literature when you introduce books at an early age. Provide your child with plenty of soft books and board books, which contain many bright and colorful pictures. Touch and feel books are perfect for this age, as they allow your child to be more interactive as well. Also, keep the books brief, as your little one is not exactly ready for a novel anyway. Short and simple books containing repetition are perfect for infants.

The importance of exercise

Any PT will tell you about the importance of tummy time, so help make this activity more fun and interactive for your child by providing various toys and objects for them to interact with. Try placing a child-friendly mirror directly in front of them, as your baby will love looking that the “other” baby staring back. Also, help encourage babies to follow your voice by moving to either side of them. Even at a young age, children are able to identify their parent’s voices, so by simply changing your position in relation to your baby, you will be enhancing this skill. You can also play simple games, such as peek-a-boo when facing your child, in order to keep them engaged.

Talk, talk, talk

Talk to your child throughout the day, especially when completing familiar activities such as washing the dishes, doing the laundry, and cooking dinner. Doing so will help to expose your child to the language associated with these activities. Though the “conversations” with your baby will seem very one-sided at first, over time you will notice that your baby will attempt to chime in when you are speaking. You will be able to quickly observe the give-and-take, as your child will quiet when you begin talking, then “comment” after you speak.

As a new parent, it can be completely overwhelming trying to juggle all of your responsibilities, so just remember to breathe! Don’t feel as though you have to do everything right off the bat. As you and your baby settle into a routine, you will notice that you are able to find some extra time to sneak in these activities.  By introducing just a couple of these ideas throughout the day, you will quickly notice that your child becomes more engaged during these times and will start to anticipate the activities as well.  Congratulations and welcome to the exciting world of parenthood!

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Holiday Shopping: How to Choose Developmentally Appropriate Toys for Your Child

The holidays are approaching rather quickly and most parents are hoping to not only get their children gifts that will make them happyholiday gifts for kids and excited, but gifts that will help them to learn and grow as well. It can definitely be challenging to not only find a toy or game that you feel your child will like, but that you as a parent will approve of as well due to the skills it addresses. Fortunately, certain stores have created special catalogs and websites to help sort toys by categories and skills. For example, Toys R Us has featured categories on the ‘Differently-Abled Kids’ portion of their website, such as Auditory, Fine Motor, Gross Motor, Social Skills and Tactile. It is important to use these resources to your advantage. Such resources are not only for children with skill deficits, but they also help you, as a parent, to look at games in a functional and educational manner. Below are some examples to give you an idea. It should also be noted that many of the games that are listed below are specific games that we use as occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and social workers within our daily treatment sessions to work on a variety of goals.

Fine Motor Skills Toys:

  • Easel (e.g. Crayola Magnetic Double-Sided Easel)
  • LEGOs
  • Angry Birds Knock on Wood Game
  • Connect 4 Launchers
  • Hungry Hungry Hippos
  • Mega Bloks Build ‘n Create

Gross Motor Skills Toys:

  • Scooter (e.g. Radio Flyer My First Sport Scooter)
  • Mini Trampoline (e.g. JumpSmart Trampoline)
  • Wagon
  • I Can Do That! Games- The Cat in the Hat

Auditory Skills Toys:

  • Bop It! Reaction Game
  • Melissa & Doug Sound Puzzles
  • Musical Instruments (e.g. Casio Key Light Up Keyboard)
  • Barbie Voice Change Boombox

Thinking Skills Toys:

  • Headbanz
  • Scrabble Flash Game
  • Train set (e.g. Chuggington Wood Beginners Set)
  • FAO Schwarz Big World Map

Overall, it is crucial for parents to keep in mind that while new technology is impressive, traditional board games as well as hands-on toys continue to be an ideal way for children to work on a variety of skills and allow them to explore their environment and pursue their own interests. It is exciting to think that your child will gain so many new skills just from playing one of the games listed above with friends and family. Stay tuned for my next blog on a more detailed breakdown of many of these toys. Happy shopping!

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Executive Functioning Activities At Home

Many kids have difficulty mastering skills such as problem-solving, organization, sequencing, initiation, memory, attention, and breaking downgirl with homework books tasks.  These skills (and many more) fall under the category of executive functioning.  As children get older and begin middle school, these skills are expected to advance quickly.  It is usually in about 5th grade where teachers and parents start to notice their child may be having more difficulty than her peers in executive functioning skills. Academic specialists, occupational therapists, and neuropsychologists are just a few of the professionals who address challenges in these areas, but there are also a variety of activities that can be done at home that are both fun and target the development of certain executive functioning skills.

Here is a list of activities that build certain aspects of executive functioning and are fairly easy to orchestrate in the home:

  • Using Playdoh, blocks, or Tinkertoys, build a figurine and have your child build an exact replica in size and color.  This works on multiple skills, including initiation, breaking down tasks, sequencing, organization, and attention.  If you are unable to build an example, or if you have an older child who enjoys playing independently, there are often pictures of structures to build that come along with block sets or images online that can be printed.
  • Have your child go through a magazine and make a list of all the toys/items wanted. Then, have her organize the list in some sort of order (most wanted at the top, alphabetical, price, etc.).  For older kids, you could also have them write a description of the item, cut the pictures out, and type up a list with descriptions and pasted pictures, or even plan a presentation.
  • There are many board games that target executive functioning skill development.  A few of the games used in the therapeutic setting that would be easy and fun options for home use include: Rush Hour (a problem-solving and sequencing game involving getting a specific car out of a traffic jam when the other vehicles can only move in straight lines), Mastermind (trying to determine what the secret code is by process of elimination), and Connect 4 Stackers (a game of attention, organization, and planning to be the first to get four in a row, like the original, but this game involves different dimensions).
  • There are many resources that can be printed from the internet. Logic puzzles come in many different levels of difficulty and involve taking given clues, making inferences from those clues, and eventually solving some sort of problem through the use of the clues. There are often charts that accompany these puzzles and require attention, organization, sequencing and problem-solving.
  • Have your child choose a recipe from a magazine. After verifying that it is a realistic recipe that can be made in your home, have her write a grocery list containing everything needed to prepare that dish, create a list of the necessary cooking supplies, and for older children, have them look up the price of each item at the store and create an estimated budget. If possible, let them be part of the entire process, and take them with you to the grocery store. Again, with older children, you could even put them in charge of pushing the cart and finding the items in the store. For older kids, they may also act as the “head chef” and be responsible for completing most of the cooking. For younger kids, if there are safety concerns, assign specific tasks as their job in the cooking process.

One of the most important aspects of doing therapeutic activities at home is that your child is having fun. These are just a few of the many activities that can be done at home to develop executive functioning skills and are also engaging and enjoyable for school age kids.




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Best Books For Beginning Readers | Pediatric Therapy Tv

In today’s Webisode, an academic specialist introduces us to some of the best choices of books for children who are beginning to read.

To determine if your child is prepared to read, watch our previous Webisode

In this video you will learn:

  • What types of books are best to help children begin to read

Video Transcription:

Announcer: From Chicago’s leading experts in pediatrics to a worldwide
audience, this is Pediatric Therapy TV, where we provide experience and
innovation to maximize your child’s potential. Now, your host, here’s
Robyn.

Robyn: Hello. You are watching Pediatric Therapy TV, and I’m your host
Robyn, Ackerman. Today I’m sitting here with an academic specialist,
Elizabeth Galin. Elizabeth, can you tell us some great beginning reading
books?

Elizabeth: Absolutely. One of the best beginning reading books is the Bob
series. These are books that come in a package of ten, and they range from
pre-readers all the way up through second grade, working on different
sounds and they become more advanced as you move through.

My second choice is the We Both Read series, and the We Both Read series
has a page for parents to read, and then a page for the children to read.
So the child’s page has a more simple word or sentence, and the parents’
page allows you to get a more detailed story. It’s a really fun family
read.

The Flippa Word series is great as well. They work on three different word
families throughout the book, really bright pictures that allow the
children to address the different sounds. Just a really fun author for kids
of all ages is Mo Willems. He has the Piggie and Elephant series, and he
also has Pigeons on the Bus, great family reads.

Lastly is High Fly Guy for older kids. These books address some of the
needs of early readers, but they also arrange it into chapters, so older
kids feel like they’re really making some progress.

Robyn: All right, well thank you so much, Elizabeth, for bringing these,
and thank you to our viewers for watching. Remember, keep on blossoming.

Announcer: This has been Pediatric Therapy TV, where we bring peace of mind
to your family with the best in educational programming. To subscribe to
our broadcast, read our blogs, or learn more, visit our website at
learnmore.me. That’s learnmore.me.