Tips to Keep Your Child Cautious Yet Calm During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This week one of our social workers, Rachel van Zevenbergen, shares some tips on how to teach children to be cautious while remaining calm during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are officially halfway through the year 2020, and we can all probably agree that it has been a very challenging year.  The COVID-19 pandemic has invited new fears and worries into our daily lives, and has had a significant impact on the mental health of many people. As we navigate this “new normal” and try to manage our own stress, anxiety and worry as adults, we need to make sure that we are also looking out for the mental well-being of our children. That being said, parents and mental health professionals have seen a noticeable uptick in anxiety and worry symptoms in children over the past several months. Between fears about the virus itself, along with social isolation, lack of physical activity, and plain boredom, many parents have witnessed their children struggling more than ever. It can be especially difficult because we do not always have the right words to comfort them, as this is an unprecedented time with information changing almost everyday.  

Below are some simple tips on how to help your child stay cautious yet calm during these trying times.

Limit exposure to COVID 19 news
First and foremost, I would suggest being very careful about your child’s exposure to media outlets, and limiting it as much as possible (depending on age and maturity level). As an adult, reading the latest headlines can be very panic-inducing. Now imagine how a child feels, who has a much more limited understanding of the world. Even if the news is on in the background, kids are very perceptive and may hear something that can really scare them. To take it a step further, it might be a good idea to mention to your childs’ friends parents that you are trying to keep things simple and brief when it comes to COVID information, and perhaps asking that they talk to their child about being sensitive to this. The last thing you need is for your child’s precious time with friends to set off a new spiral of panic.

Remind your child of the positives
Talk to your children about the positives. With so much doom and gloom surrounding us, it can be hard to find that sliver of hope. One important thing to note is that according to the World Health Organization, although children are just as susceptible to COVID, evidence to date suggests that they are less likely to get severe symptoms that require hospitalization  Additionally, a very high percentage of people who are young and in good health recover from COVID. Scientists all across the world are working very hard on a vaccine, and vaccine trials are already underway in the United States.

Use this opportunity to teach your child about good hygiene
This is also a great opportunity to have honest conversations about hygiene and good health. Some of these conversations can include the importance of hand washing, covering mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing, staying home when you feel sick, and respecting the personal space and boundaries of others. To make things a bit more fun, let your child order their own mask in a design they like, or have them decorate their own with stickers, pompoms or tye dye! You could even try adding a few drops of food coloring to your hand sanitizer.  Now could also be the perfect time to motivate your child to really kick that nail biting or thumb sucking habit! 

Stay connected
Social isolation and lack of structure and routine can have a negative impact on mental health and lead to feelings of loneliness, sadness and irritability. 2020 has brought the meaning of isolation to a whole new level, and finding ways to keep kids occupied and socialized has been a major challenge, especially for working parents. Phone calls, FaceTime, texting, a shared digital photo album with family, and even good old-fashioned snail mail are great ways to keep kids connected to friends and family. Now that Illinois is in Phase 4, we have gotten the green light to get together with others in small groups. Socially distant picnics, hanging in the backyard, or taking walks are a great way to get that face-to face contact while staying safe.

Practice Gratitude
There are many people who are being impacted by the pandemic that do not have a lot of resources or the luxury of staying home (I’m looking at you, essential workers!) This could be a perfect time to talk to children about gratitude and helping others. This can be as simple as making a list of things your child is grateful for, sending a letter or some artwork to a nursing home, donating supplies to shelters or underprivileged communities, or even hanging some art in the window to cheer up a passerby.

Keep up with therapy
Last but certainly not least, parents should try their very best to remain consistent with their child’s mental health treatment! Telehealth is a fantastic way to stay connected with your child’s counselor or social worker from the comfort of your own home. For kids who already struggle with anxiety, depression, conduct or mood disorders, it is imperative that he or she continue to get support.  Most insurance companies have already approved telehealth sessions, but it is always a good idea to double check with them to make sure this is a covered service!

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. 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!

How to Help Your Child Adjust to Summer During COVID 19

This week one of our Social Workers, Robyn White, offers advice for helping your child cope with changes to summer plans this year. 

As we navigate the summer months, many families are wondering what to tell their children amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Both parents and children face the uncertainty of what they will do this summer. Some children look forward to attending camp, some play sports, and others stay with extended family members. What will this summer look like, and how can families prepare to cope with these changes? Here are some tips on how to maintain some normalcy and manage stress during this unprecedented time.

Stick to Routines and Schedules

During times of uncertainty, it is important to create structure in the household so children can feel a sense of control over their environment. Parents can make a daily schedule for their children so they know what to expect. Depending on the child’s age and developmental ability, families can work together to create a picture or word schedule. Parents can encourage children who feel upset about missing camp to write a list of their favorite camp activities and add those to their summer agenda.

Make Time for Movement and Exercise

If there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it is that children need to move. During the stay-at-home order, many families have more time to relax and spend quality time together, but there are fewer opportunities to move around. With limited movement, children are not releasing as many feel-good chemicals, called endorphins, which can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD, depression, and anxiety. When creating your children’s schedule, make sure to include movement and activity breaks. Feel free to ask your kids to share 10 indoor and outdoor activities to engage in, including: taking nature walks, going on bike rides, creating obstacle courses, playing sports, doing yoga, creating a treasure hunt, building a fort, gardening, playing hopscotch, or completing family projects.

Monitor Screen Time

One of parents’ main concerns while their children are in quarantine is the amount of time spent in front of screens. Whether children are playing video games, watching television shows, or texting friends, technology seems to be playing a center role in their lives. In serious cases, this can lead to internet addiction, preventing the child from developing key social and attentional milestones. To deal with this issue, parents can monitor and set limits on the amount of time their kids spend on their devices. A good rule of thumb is to limit children between the ages of 2 to 5 to one hour of monitored screen time per day and to increase that slowly by age. Parents can replace screen time with more enriching activities, such as: board games, puzzles, singing, cooking, reading books, or journaling about this time in history.

Utilize Virtual Support

Of course, parents are not superhuman and do not always have control over their children’s technology use. During this time, many children are required to join Zoom meetings and complete schoolwork on their tablets or iPads. Some sports teams and other extracurricular activities only have the option to meet over screens due to social distancing recommendations. Many children are yearning for more social connection during this time and can greatly benefit from virtually connecting with friends and family. So, families should choose their screen time wisely, and can use it to deepen relationships and model the importance of connection.

Stay Positive

As we know, children mimic their parents’ behaviors and will assuredly pick up on their attitudes and belief systems. Although this is a difficult time with many trials and tribulations, parents can model a positive attitude by highlighting the good things that can come out of this difficult experience. Children and parents can talk about gratitude and think of aspects of life they feel thankful for during this time. Instead of saying, “We have to stay at home this summer,” parents can say a more encouraging phrase, like, “We have the opportunity to spend quality time as a family this summer and create lasting memories together!” A small change in a child’s mindset can help increase their motivation and help them remember their summer in a positive way.

Acknowledge and Accept Feelings

While families can work on practicing positivity in the household, children will likely feel a range of positive and negative emotions throughout the summer months. From disappointment due to changes in fun summer plans to missing seeing their friends, children may feel sad, frustrated, or lonely. Parents can encourage children to express their feelings and practice acceptance. For younger children with limited emotional vocabulary, parents can instruct them to draw their feelings. Older children and adolescents can journal or talk about their feelings to express themselves. Furthermore, parents can set up a weekly family meeting for family members to share their feelings openly and honestly. Families can create a list of rules to respect one another and try to suspend judgment in a loving, open environment.

Get Help if Needed

If your child feels helpless, try to listen to their concerns and explain any new plans with the crisis in a developmentally appropriate manner. If parents notice that their children are feeling ongoing symptoms of depression, anxiety, irritability, have lost interest in their normal activities, or have difficulty concentrating, please reach out for help and ask to speak with a mental health professional. Remember that mental health is a real health issue, and early intervention is key. During this time, many therapists, including the professionals at North Shore Pediatric Therapy, offer both virtual telehealth visits and in-office sessions.

As the days and weeks pass by, families will soon find their “new normal.” Humans are very resilient and somehow find ways cope, even in the most stressful situations. So, resist the urge to be a perfect parent, reconnect with loved ones, take a lot of deep breaths, have some fun, and we will make it through together!

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. 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!

Will My Child Be Ready for School In the Fall?

Is your child scheduled to begin kindergarten in the fall? Are you concerned about the impact of preschool absence on later academic success? Do you worry about a delayed school start effecting the trajectory of your child’s education?

In Neuropsychology, we answer these questions by assessing the level of what we call, “School Readiness”. School readiness is a term used to describe essential skills and knowledge that have been identified as key factors for social-emotional and academic success. These factors are also related to healthy development in addition to the ability to function and learn within a school environment.

In order to assess School Readiness, we check to see if your child can verbally label and identify basic concepts in the following categories prior to beginning formal education:

  • Colors
  • Alphabet knowledge
  • Numbers/counting
  • Sizes/Comparisons
  • Shapes
  • Direction/Position
  • Self-/Social Awareness
  • Quantity
  • Time/Sequence

If your child has demonstrated the above milestones, they are more likely to experience a smooth and successful transition from home/preschool into kindergarten…Below, we’ve listed some activities you can do from home to help make sure your child is ready for kindergarten this fall!

Activities to support your child at home:

  • Going on a color walk outside
  • Shared reading activities to promote letter identification and letter-sound recognition
  • Count out loud when washing hands
  • Comparing sizes of different toys, people, or objects
  • Go on a shape walk through the house
  • Identify basic emotions while watching movies
  • Narrate your own and your child’s actions using descriptive vocabulary

Still concerned? NSPT is here for you! We can help assess your child’s current level of school readiness, identify areas of need, and ensure supports can be in place when your child does begin school. Neuropsychology consultations are available in person and via video chat. Contact us today to set up your appointment!

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. 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!

 

 

 

Will My Child Be Ready for School In the Fall?

Is your child scheduled to begin kindergarten in the fall? Are you concerned about the impact of preschool absence on later academic success? Do you worry about a delayed school start effecting the trajectory of your child’s education?

In Neuropsychology, we answer these questions by assessing the level of what we call, “School Readiness”. School readiness is a term used to describe essential skills and knowledge that have been identified as key factors for social-emotional and academic success. These factors are also related to healthy development in addition to the ability to function and learn within a school environment.

In order to assess School Readiness, we check to see if your child can verbally label and identify basic concepts in the following categories prior to beginning formal education:

  • Colors
  • Alphabet knowledge
  • Numbers/counting
  • Sizes/Comparisons
  • Shapes
  • Direction/Position
  • Self-/Social Awareness
  • Quantity
  • Time/Sequence

If your child has demonstrated the above milestones, they are more likely to experience a smooth and successful transition from home/preschool into kindergarten…Below, we’ve listed some activities you can do from home to help make sure your child is ready for kindergarten this fall!

Activities to support your child at home:

  • Going on a color walk outside
  • Shared reading activities to promote letter identification and letter-sound recognition
  • Count out loud when washing hands
  • Comparing sizes of different toys, people, or objects
  • Go on a shape walk through the house
  • Identify basic emotions while watching movies
  • Narrate your own and your child’s actions using descriptive vocabulary

Still concerned? NSPT is here for you! We can help assess your child’s current level of school readiness, identify areas of need, and ensure supports can be in place when your child does begin school. Neuropsychology consultations are available in person and via video chat. Contact us today to set up your appointment!

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. 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!

Should My Child Be Tested for Autism?

As parents, it is natural to worry about your child’s development if he or she does not seem to be meeting developmental milestones on time. When will my child say their first word? Shouldn’t they be walking by know? Should they still be having this much trouble reading?

Children’s developmental milestones can vary greatly, and the rate of when milestones are accomplished does not always yield significant advantages or disadvantages in the long run. However, there are some early markers for Autism Spectrum Disorder that could indicate you should get them tested.

Does your child…

  • reduced eye contact
  • loss of previously acquired speech or social skills
  • delayed language development
  • resistance to minor changes in routine
  • repetitive behaviors (e.g., flapping, rocking, spinning)
  • unusual and intense reactions to smells, tastes, textures, lights

If your child demonstrate some of these early markers, a neuropsychological evaluation is helpful in identifying Autism Spectrum Disorder.

An Autism evaluation includes:

  • An interview with the child’s parents/caregivers
  • Administration of a play-based test designed to evaluate the presence of the behavioral excesses and deficits found in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • A completion of rating scales that help assess your child’s level of functioning

Depending on your child’s age, a neuropsychological evaluation can also include assessment of cognitive functioning, language skills, and visual-motor skills to obtain a comprehensive evaluation of your child’s global functioning.

Should findings indicate that your child has Autism Spectrum Disorder, receiving a diagnosis will allow for treatment specifically geared towards helping children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as provide recommendations for school regarding your child’s needs. Should findings not reveal Autism Spectrum Disorder, recommendations are still generated based on your child’s strengths and weaknesses to maximize their opportunity to reach optimal success.

The earlier a child receives intervention, the better the outcome. We are committed to continuing to provide these diagnostic services, even during the pandemic, by  following the guidelines set forth by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. What this may look like is a tele-health diagnostic interview and feedback session, where we review the results of the evaluation. In-person sessions would involve our best efforts at social distancing and use of protective gear to minimize risk of transmission. If you believe that your child may have autism spectrum disorder, schedule a neuropsychology consultation today.

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. 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!

Your Guide to Telehealth Consultations for Neuropsychology

Parents and children are faced with a variety of challenges in reacting and responding to the ways COVID-19 affects their families. Many find themselves at a loss for how to handle this crisis. We want to help. That’s why our neuropsychologists are available for consultation, via telehealth, to assist you.

What is telehealth consultation?

Telehealth are essential health services provided via phone or through a video. Telehealth allows you to get the assistance you need while also keeping your family safe. Using telehealth, our neuropsychologists can answer questions, guide services, and help your family navigate next steps.

What questions can consultation answer?

  • During e-learning, I noticed my child has a hard time in a certain subject, such as reading or math. Is this typical or should they be tested by a neuropsychologist?
  • My child has a hard time sitting still and focusing, is this ADHD or e-learning?
  • I am worried my child is falling behind developmentally, what can I do?
  • My child was already diagnosed with ADHD, how can I make sure they continue to learn and grow?
  • What are the next steps in advocating for my child to get school-based services/accommodations?
  • How can I get other services (speech, OT, ABA, etc.) started for my child?
  • My child already has school accommodations, how can I make sure they continue in the fall? How can I adapt them to reflect any new concerns from e-learning?

What we can do through consultation:

  • Provide information for you to decide whether a neuropsychological evaluation would answer questions you have about your child’s developmental needs
  • Help guide services and find appropriate supports for your child
  • Collaborate with schools to navigate how your child can successfully return to their educational setting
  • Work with service providers (OT, speech, ABA) to problem-solve any new or existing concerns
  • Answer questions about past evaluations in light of new stressors or challenges

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. 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!

Managing Your Child’s Stress During COVID-19

This week, the head of our Neuropsychology Department offers some advice on how to manage the stress your child might have during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Life has changed. 

Restaurants are closed. Playdates are scheduled over zoom. The classroom is now our kitchen table. Our world has grown smaller. While this can be difficult for us, it can be even harder on children. It’s difficult for children to understand Coronoavirus and to process how and why all of this is happening. But we can adapt, we can survive, and we can help our children through this. Here are some things I’ve done to help my six year old during the pandemic.

  • Avoid the news (on television and social media).
  • Have daily/nightly routines such as family movie nights, game nights, etc.
  • Do activities that you normally would not do such as camping in the basement or in the backyard.
  • If there are multiple adults in the household, take turns with eLearning.
  • Keep a schedule for eLearning and for the entire day (we thrive with routines and structure)
  • Try to think of activities to change the day such as going for walks or car rides.

Remember, brighter days are ahead. We will all get through this together. Not everyday needs to be perfect, forgive yourself for being frustrated with this “new normal”. Patience and hope will see us through.

If there are concerns about your child’s behavior or learning, we recommend scheduling a Neuropsychology consultation to discuss any evident issues.

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. 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!

E-Learning Tips from an Occupational Therapist

We’re back with more tips on how to help your child finish the school year out from home. This week, we asked one of our Occupational Therapists for some tips on how to help structure your child’s new school day. Here’s she had to say.

Set the Expectations

  • Create daily, morning, or afternoon visual schedules or calendars and include e-learning subjects (math, reading, OT, PT, SLP, etc.) – Utilize pictures or words depending on the child’s reading abilities.
  • Review expectations before e-learning sessions begin (i.e. whole body listening techniques, sitting quietly, keeping hands to self, staying in our seat).
  • Post expectations or rules for e-learning on a wall next to the child’s e-learning space. For example, post a visual display of whole body listening techniques or hang a list of 5 rules written or created by the child.
  • Discuss incentives for following the expectations/rules throughout an entire e-learning session.

Set up a Designated Environment

  • Create a work space that is special for e-learning. If you can set up a particular desk or table that is only used for e-learning, this can help children set expectations and boundaries in the home setting. If a separate space is not available, utilize an “e-learning clipboard” or other materials that will make this space particularly special and unique for e-learning opportunities.
  • Place all necessary materials in reach (pencils, paper, crayons, scissors, workbooks).
  • Provide special writing utensils or materials that can only be used during e-learning (i.e. smelly markers, colored pencils, etc.).
  • Minimize distractions. An e-learning workspace should be far from TV, toys, etc. to improve focus and attention. Position the child’s workspace in a clutter-free area with minimal visual distractions. If necessary, provide headphones to minimize auditory distractions.

Provide Opportunities for Movement

  • Before an e-learning session begins, provide at least five to ten minutes of sensory opportunities for heavy work or general gross motor movement. These can include: animal walks, yoga poses, or other proprioceptive activities.
  • Allow opportunities for movement during e-learning sessions (i.e. stretch breaks, chewable pencil topperwiggle cushion, etc.)

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. 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 Ways to Maintain Language Skills During Social Distancing

Social distancing may be challenging for children with speech and language disorders, as it limits decreases their daily opportunities to practice language with others. In addition, having to transition to phone calls and text messaging as opposed to face to face communication may be overwhelming for our kiddos with speech and language disorders.

Never fear! We’ve outlined 5 ways to stay connected and practice pragmatic language while maintaining social distance.

  1. Virtual connectivity. Facetime or Zoom friends, grandparents, and others! Virtual connectivity with a visual, socially interactive interface provides a multi sensory input for kids to socially interact while maintaining physical distance
  2. Physical exercise! There are many free programs offering online classes right now for physical exercise. Try out an aerobics class at home with your child in the house. Turn it into a language opportunity (i.e. sequencing activities you did in the class, how it felt to exercise, etc).
  3. Spring cleaning. Spending more time in the house we have increased opportunities to organize our homes. Have your child put items into groups, sorting, organizing, and sequencing to practice their language skills.
  4. Daily routine and structure. Establish several times a day where everyone in your home will complete an activity together each day to reduce the thoughts and feelings of social isolation (i.e. having one meal together a day, going for a walk at a certain time each day, reading a book together at the same time each night).
  5. Creative activities. Encourage interactive activities that involve interactive social exchanges at home. Turn your living room into a “park” and have a picnic on the floor, build blanket forts, and encourage other creative activities your child may be interested in to promote language and social connection with the family.

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. 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 At Home Speech Language Activities

Social distancing proves to be a challenge for families with children who rely heavily on structure and consistency in their daily schedules. That’s why the implementation of parent home programs is essential now more than ever to maintain carry over of learned therapy skills. Here are some tips to make therapy at home fun while providing structure.

  1. Provide correct modeling of speech and language
    Turn ordinary conversation into opportunities to practice speech and language goals. Provide correct models whether it be articulation, language and grammar skills, or social pragmatic skills. If your child makes a mistake, (i.e. incorrect usage of speech sound) rather than correcting their error, continue to provide the correct model of the desired speech sound.
  1. Create visual schedules
    Many of our kiddos can benefit from visual schedules. Advantages of using a visual schedule include but are not limited to: helping remaining calm/maintaining self regulation, providing the child with a positive routine with predictability of what to expect next, increasing receptive language skills with the use of visuals, increasing language processing skills with the use of both visuals and written text, promoting sequencing skills (first, second, now, later), and providing structure in the child’s day to day life.
  1. Practice verbal routines
    Using verbal routines for children with language disorders is an excellent way for children to foster language development in their daily lives. Verbal routines are when you use the same words/phrases in an activity every time (i.e 1, 2, 3 or ready, set, go!). These routines are predicable and provide opportunities for the child to enhance their language skills. Verbal routines can be applied in both unstructured and structured tasks such as playing with bubbles, playing catch with a ball, or higher level cognitive tasks such as saying “my turn” before every turn in a family board game night at home.
    In addition, functional language routines can be found in nursery rhymes and songs. These songs additionally provide opportunities for labeling, object identification, and sequencing. (i.e. head, shoulders, knees and toes, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, row row row your boat).
  1. Provide opportunities for children to ask questions and make comments
    Set the stage for your child to ask questions during functional tasks that will give them the opportunity to ask questions or make comments. For example, if your child wants to draw or write provide them the piece of paper but leave out the pen or pencil to provide them the opportunity to ask questions in relation to the task.
  1. Read books out loud together!
    Reading books is a wonderful and fun way to practice language at home. Use books with predictable patterns that can be easily learned and require active participation from the reader.

Whether you are continuing face to face therapy at one of our clinics or beginning telehealth with one of our therapists, we are here to continue to serve you.

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. 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!