Archive for: Sensory Processing

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Developing Precision Movements: Occupational Therapy’s Crucial Role

doctor working on developing fine motor skills

Overview

Nurturing a child’s ability to perform intricate tasks with dexterity is vital for their overall growth and independence. Fine motor skills, which refer to the coordinated use of small muscles in the hands, fingers, and eyes, play a pivotal role in enabling children to engage in everyday activities with ease and confidence. From buttoning shirts to grasping pencils, these skills are integral to academic success, play, and self-care routines. Ease in fine motor skills promotes independence, and challenges can contribute to frustration, avoidance of activities which can create even more challenges!  Occupational therapists are uniquely positioned to assess and address fine motor challenges, empowering children to reach their full potential.

Understanding Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills encompass a wide range of precise movements that require the synchronization of small muscle groups, primarily in the hands and fingers. These skills are essential for various tasks, such as writing, cutting with scissors, tying shoelaces, and manipulating small objects like beads or puzzle pieces.

While the term “fine motor skills” is often used to refer specifically to the movements of the hands and fingers, it is essential to recognize that these abilities are closely linked to other developmental areas, including visual perception, sensory processing, and cognitive functions.

The Early Years

While most people think of fine motor skills as coming from the hands, while this is true gross motor control allows for these skills to develop. Developing the core (tummy) strength to hold the body stable to allow shoulder stability, then wrist stability and ultimately manual dexterity to develop. From early on promoting tummy time with infants, crawling and gross motor play will help children strengthen their hands before they are ready to hold a pencil!

The Importance of Fine Motor Development

Developing fine motor skills is crucial for children’s overall growth and independence. These abilities lay the foundation for numerous activities that are essential for academic success, play, and self-care routines. Here are some key reasons why fine motor development is vital:

  • Academic Readiness: Fine motor skills are directly linked to a child’s ability to write legibly, manipulate learning materials, and engage in various classroom activities. Children with well-developed fine motor skills are better equipped to keep up with their peers and demonstrate their true academic potential. That said children under the age of 4 should be encouraged to color and SCRIBBLE! Later on lines, circles, crosses and shapes can be worked on. Before writing letters a child should be able to write vertical lines, crosses, circles, squares and triangles!
  • Play and Social Interaction: Many childhood games and activities, such as building with blocks, playing with puzzles, or engaging in arts and crafts, require a certain level of fine motor proficiency. Children with strong fine motor skills can participate more fully in these activities, fostering social connections and enhancing their overall development.
  • Self-Care and Independence: Tasks such as buttoning shirts, tying shoelaces, using utensils, and grooming require fine motor coordination. Children who struggle with these skills may experience frustration and a decreased sense of self-confidence, potentially impacting their social interactions and overall well-being.
  • Cognitive Development: Fine motor skills are closely linked to cognitive abilities, such as problem-solving, visual-spatial awareness, and hand-eye coordination. As children engage in activities that challenge their fine motor skills, they also exercise their cognitive abilities, fostering overall brain development. Think of all those math manipulatives that use pegs and small shapes!

magnetic blocks

The Role of Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists (OTs) play a crucial role in assessing and addressing fine motor challenges in children. Through a comprehensive evaluation process, OTs can identify specific areas of difficulty and develop targeted intervention plans to improve fine motor skills. Here’s how occupational therapy can benefit children with fine motor challenges:

  • Assessment and Evaluation: OTs use standardized assessments and clinical observations to evaluate a child’s fine motor skills, identify underlying factors contributing to the challenges, and determine the appropriate course of intervention. Assessments including visual motor and perceptual skills help determine the underlying factors impacting development. 
  • Individualized Treatment Plans: Based on the assessment findings, OTs create personalized treatment plans that incorporate engaging activities and exercises designed to strengthen the specific fine motor skills that a child needs to improve. Specific activities challenged through play based activities can strengthen the small muscles of the hand, and train the body in the motor plans required for the miniscule movements we use every day
  • Sensory Integration Therapy: Many fine motor challenges are linked to sensory processing difficulties. OTs are trained in sensory integration therapy, which involves providing controlled sensory input to help children better process and integrate sensory information, ultimately improving their fine motor coordination.
  • Environmental Modifications: OTs can recommend adaptive equipment, assistive technology, or environmental modifications to support a child’s fine motor development and participation in daily activities.
  • Collaboration with Families and Educators: OTs work closely with families and educators to provide strategies and recommendations for incorporating fine motor activities into a child’s daily routines at home and in the classroom, promoting consistent skill development.

Engaging Fine Motor Activities

Occupational therapists employ a variety of engaging and purposeful activities to target and improve fine motor skills in children. These activities are designed to be fun and motivating while simultaneously challenging the child’s fine motor abilities. Here are some examples of fine motor activities that OTs may incorporate into treatment sessions that you may be able to replicate at home. During treatment sessions OTs break down the task to be the just right challenge! When we are challenged without too much frustration our brains learn!:

Strengthening Activities

  • Squeezing and manipulating therapy putty or play dough
  • Crumpling paper or aluminum foil into tight balls
  • Squeezing and spraying water bottles
  • Tearing and cutting paper or cardboard
  • Games with clothespins

Dexterity and Precision Activities

  • Stringing beads or lacing activities
  • Picking up and transferring small objects (e.g., pom-poms, marbles)
  • Using tongs or tweezers to grasp and manipulate objects
  • Completing puzzles or sorting activities

Bilateral Coordination Activities

  • Tying shoelaces or using zippers and buttons
  • Cutting with scissors along various shapes or lines
  • Manipulating small construction toys (e.g., Lego, K’Nex)
  • Drawing or coloring within defined boundaries

Functional Activities

  • Writing and pencil grip exercises
  • Opening and closing containers with different lids
  • Using utensils for feeding or cooking activities
  • Folding and sorting laundry

By incorporating these engaging activities into treatment sessions, OTs can make fine motor skill development fun and motivating for children, while also addressing their specific needs and challenges.

Collaborating with Families and Educators

Occupational therapists understand that fine motor skill development is an ongoing process that requires consistent practice and reinforcement across multiple settings. To maximize the effectiveness of fine motor interventions, OTs collaborate closely with families and educators to provide strategies and recommendations for incorporating fine motor activities into a child’s daily routines.

Home Strategies

OTs can provide families with specific fine motor activities and exercises to practice at home, tailored to the child’s interests and skill level. These may include:

  • Incorporating fine motor activities into playtime (e.g., stringing beads, using tongs to transfer objects)
  • Involving the child in age-appropriate household tasks (e.g., folding laundry, setting the table, cooking)
  • Encouraging the use of adaptive equipment or tools (e.g., pencil grips, slanted writing surfaces)
  • Modifying everyday activities to challenge fine motor skills (e.g., using smaller utensils, opening containers with different lid types, coloring on a vertical surface)

child coloring on paper

Classroom Strategies

OTs can work with educators to develop strategies for supporting fine motor development in the classroom setting. These may include:

  • Providing recommendations for classroom accommodations (e.g., adaptive writing tools, highlighted paper, slant boards, voice to text then copy)
  • Suggesting fine motor warm-up activities or “brain breaks/sensory diet” during the school day
  • Collaborating on the development of fine motor skill groups or stations within the classroom
  • Offering professional development or training for teachers on incorporating fine motor activities into lesson plans

By working collaboratively with families and educators, OTs can help create a consistent and supportive environment for fine motor skill development, ensuring that children receive the necessary practice and reinforcement across multiple settings.

Addressing Underlying Factors

While occupational therapy interventions often focus on improving the specific fine motor skills themselves, OTs also address any underlying factors that may be contributing to a child’s fine motor challenges. These factors can include:

    • Sensory Processing Difficulties: Children with sensory processing disorders may have difficulty integrating and responding appropriately to sensory input, which can impact their fine motor coordination and dexterity. OTs can provide sensory integration therapy to help children better process and integrate sensory information.
    • Muscle Tone and Strength: Adequate muscle tone and strength in the hands, fingers, and arms are essential for fine motor control. OTs can incorporate strengthening exercises and activities to improve muscle tone and endurance.
  • Motor Delays: Fine motor skills can be due to a delay in overall motor development. You need a strong core to develop strong hands!
  • Motor Planning Deficits: Some children demonstrate childhood dyspraxia which impacts motor planning and body awareness, which in turn impacts the development of fine motor skills
  • Visual-Motor Integration: Fine motor skills require the integration of visual information with motor output. OTs can assess and address any difficulties in visual-motor integration through specialized activities and exercises.
  • Attention and Focus: Sustained attention and focus are necessary for successful fine motor skill execution. OTs can incorporate strategies and activities to improve a child’s ability to maintain attention and focus during fine motor tasks.
  • Cognitive and Executive Functioning: Fine motor tasks often require problem-solving, planning, and sequencing abilities. OTs can address any underlying cognitive or executive functioning challenges that may be impacting a child’s fine motor performance.

By addressing these underlying factors, OTs can provide a comprehensive approach to fine motor skill development, ensuring that any contributing factors are addressed and supporting the child’s overall growth and development.

Adaptive Equipment and Environmental Modifications

In some cases, occupational therapists may recommend the use of adaptive equipment or environmental modifications to support a child’s fine motor skill development and participation in daily activities. These adaptations can help compensate for specific fine motor challenges and promote greater independence and success.

Adaptive Equipment

OTs may recommend the use of various adaptive equipment or assistive technology based on their assessment, and what has been proven to work best based on your child’s unique profile to enhance a child’s fine motor abilities, such as:

  • Pencil grips or weighted writing utensils
  • Slanted writing surfaces or desktop slant boards
  • Adapted scissors with larger loops or spring-loaded handles
  • Specialized utensils or adaptive feeding equipment
  • Computer software or applications designed for fine motor skill practice
  • Writing on textured surfaces for increased feedback. 

Environmental Modifications

OTs can also suggest modifications to a child’s environment to better support their fine motor skill development and participation in daily activities. These modifications may include:

  • Adjusting desk or table heights to promote proper posture and positioning
  • Providing specialized seating options (e.g., chairs with arm supports, wobble cushions)
  • Organizing workspaces or play areas to minimize distractions and promote focus
  • Incorporating sensory-based strategies (e.g., fidget toys, weighted vests) to support sensory regulation

 

By recommending appropriate adaptive equipment and environmental modifications, OTs can help create an inclusive and supportive environment that allows children with fine motor challenges to participate more fully in daily activities and reach their full potential.

Monitoring Progress and Celebrating Achievements

Occupational therapists understand the importance of regularly monitoring a child’s progress and celebrating their achievements throughout the fine motor skill development process. This not only helps to track the effectiveness of interventions and make necessary adjustments but also fosters a sense of accomplishment and motivation in the child.

Progress Monitoring

OTs employ various methods to monitor a child’s progress in fine motor skill development, including:

  • Conducting regular standardized assessments or checklists
  • Observing the child’s performance during structured activities or daily routines
  • Collecting work samples or video recordings to document progress over time
  • Collaborating with families and educators to gather feedback on the child’s fine motor abilities across different settings

By regularly monitoring progress, OTs can identify areas of strength and areas that may require additional support or modification to the intervention plan.

Celebrating Achievements

Recognizing and celebrating a child’s achievements, no matter how small, is an essential part of the occupational therapy process. OTs can incorporate various strategies to celebrate progress and foster a sense of accomplishment, such as:

  • Providing positive reinforcement and verbal praise for effort and improvement
  • Creating visual charts or displays to track and celebrate milestones
  • Involving families and educators in celebrating the child’s achievements
  • Incorporating motivational activities or rewards as part of the treatment plan

By celebrating achievements, OTs not only acknowledge the hard work and progress made by the child but also help to build their confidence, self-esteem, and motivation to continue developing their fine motor skills.

Conclusion

Fine motor skills are essential for children’s overall development, enabling them to participate fully in academic, play, and self-care activities. Occupational therapists play a vital role in assessing and addressing fine motor challenges, providing targeted interventions and strategies to support fine motor skill development. Fine motor skills allow for academic skills to be supported. Additionally, fine motor skills while many people take for granted support confidence, and the lack of can contribute to frustration in everyday tasks.

Through a comprehensive approach that includes engaging activities, collaboration with families and educators, addressing underlying factors, and recommending adaptive equipment or environmental modifications, OTs can help children overcome fine motor challenges and reach their full potential.

By fostering fine motor skills, occupational therapy not only enhances a child’s ability to perform daily tasks but also contributes to their overall growth, independence, and quality of life. With the right support and interventions, every child can develop the fine motor abilities necessary to navigate the world with confidence and success.

Unveiling the Enigma: Sensory Integration Challenges Unraveled

Occupational therapy treatment session on screening development of kids. Concept for pediatric clinic, pediatrician and learning

What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory integration refers to the intricate process by which our brain receives, organizes, and responds to sensory stimuli from the environment. This complex phenomenon involves the seamless coordination of various senses, including sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, and even our awareness of body position and movement. Coping with sensory processing challenges is enough to warrant treatment, but if it leads to significant daily challenges it can rise to the commonly referred to condition of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or Sensory Integration Dysfunction. Additionally, sensory processing challenges are part of other DSM conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Anxiety, and Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Sensory Processing Disorder: A Closer Look

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that impairs an individual’s ability to process and respond appropriately to sensory information. This disorder can manifest in different ways, with some individuals exhibiting hypersensitivity (oversensitivity) to certain stimuli, while others display hyposensitivity (under responsivity), or sensory seeking (craving more intense sensory input). Many people have mixed presentations of hypersensitivities to some types of input and under responsivities to others. As sensory processing is the foundation of so many skills it can impact behavior and everyday activities.

Recognizing the Signs

Identifying the signs of sensory processing issues can be challenging, as they can vary widely from person to person. However, some common indicators may include:

Hypersensitivity (Sensory Avoidance)

  • Aversion to certain textures, fabrics, or clothing materials
  • Distress caused by loud noises or bright lights
  • Discomfort with physical touch or personal space invasion
  • Gagging or refusing certain foods due to their textures or smells
  • Clumsiness or poor balance
  • Avoidance of swings, slides, or other playground equipment
  • Difficulty transitioning between activities or environments
  • Resistance to trying new experiences

Under Responsivity and Sensory Seeking

  • Constant fidgeting or inability to sit still
  • Thrill-seeking behaviors, such as excessive spinning or jumping
  • Failure to recognize personal space boundaries
  • Chewing on non-food items, clothing, or fingers
  • Excessive visual stimulation seeking (e.g., staring at screens or lights)
  • Difficulty sleeping or recognizing fatigue
  • Unawareness of bodily sensations (e.g., a runny nose or dirty face)

It’s important to note that individuals with SPD may exhibit a combination of both hypersensitive and hyposensitive traits, adding to the complexity of the condition.

Sensory Processing Challenges in Children

While sensory processing difficulties can affect individuals of all ages, they are often first identified in childhood. Children with SPD may exhibit a wide range of behaviors that can impact their daily lives and development.

Early Signs in Infancy and Toddlerhood

  • Extreme fussiness or irritability
  • Aversion to being cuddled or held
  • Difficulty with transitioning between activities or environments
  • Sensitivity to certain textures or fabrics
  • Resistance to trying new foods or engaging in messy play

School-Age Challenges

As children with SPD enter their school years, they may face additional obstacles:

  • Difficulty following instructions or staying focused
  • Avoidance of certain classroom activities or materials
  • Clumsiness or poor motor coordination
  • Social isolation or difficulty forming friendships
  • Emotional outbursts or meltdowns in response to sensory triggers

Impact on Learning and Development

Sensory processing issues can have far-reaching consequences for a child’s overall development and academic performance. Children with SPD may struggle with:

  • Fine motor skills, such as handwriting or using scissors
  • Gross motor skills, like climbing stairs or catching a ball
  • Language and communication development
  • Self-regulation and emotional control
  • Cognitive functions, including attention and problem-solving

Addressing these challenges early through appropriate interventions and accommodations is crucial for supporting a child’s growth and well-being.

Sensory Processing Challenges in Adults

While sensory processing difficulties are often identified in childhood, they can persist into adulthood. Adults with SPD may have developed coping mechanisms to manage their sensory challenges, but the underlying condition can still significantly impact their daily lives.

Everyday Struggles

Adults with sensory processing issues may encounter various challenges in their daily routines:

  • Sensitivity to certain fabrics, textures, or clothing materials
  • Discomfort in crowded or noisy environments
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing in distracting environments
  • Challenges with personal grooming or hygiene tasks
  • Avoidance of certain social situations or activities due to sensory triggers

Occupational and Social Implications

Sensory processing difficulties can also have profound effects on an individual’s professional and social life:

  • Difficulties in certain work environments or job roles
  • Challenges with interpersonal communication and social interactions
  • Sensory overload leading to anxiety or emotional distress
  • Avoidance of specific activities or events due to sensory triggers

It’s important to note that many adults with SPD have learned to adapt and develop coping strategies over time, but the underlying sensory challenges may continue to impact their daily lives and overall well-being.

Sensory Processing and Comorbidities

Sensory processing difficulties often co-occur with other neurodevelopmental conditions, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Additionally, individuals with SPD may also experience anxiety or depression, which can further complicate their sensory experiences and overall functioning.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Many individuals on the autism spectrum exhibit sensory processing challenges, which can contribute to their social, communication, and behavioral difficulties. Sensory processing issues are often a core component of ASD, and addressing these challenges can be crucial for supporting individuals with autism.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Children and adults with ADHD may also experience sensory processing difficulties, which can exacerbate their challenges with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Sensory processing issues can contribute to distractibility, fidgeting, and difficulty regulating emotions in individuals with ADHD.

Anxiety and Depression

Sensory processing challenges can be a significant source of stress and anxiety for individuals, leading to emotional dysregulation and potential development of anxiety disorders or depression. Addressing sensory processing issues can be an important aspect of managing mental health conditions in these cases.

Understanding the Causes

While the exact causes of sensory processing disorder are not fully understood, researchers have identified several potential contributing factors:

Genetic Influences

Studies have suggested that sensory processing difficulties may have a genetic component, with certain individuals being predisposed to these challenges due to their genetic makeup.

Neurological Factors

Sensory processing involves complex neurological processes, and disruptions or differences in brain structure or function may contribute to the development of SPD. Researchers are exploring potential links between sensory processing challenges and neurological conditions or injuries.

Environmental Factors

Environmental influences, such as exposure to certain toxins or substances during pregnancy or early childhood, may also play a role in the development of sensory processing difficulties.

It’s important to note that sensory processing disorder is a complex condition, and multiple factors may contribute to its manifestation in individuals.

Diagnosis and Assessment

Sensory processing disorder is not currently recognized as a distinct medical diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). However, many healthcare professionals, including occupational therapists, psychologists, and developmental-behavioral pediatricians, acknowledge and assess sensory processing challenges.

Assessment Tools

Several assessment tools are commonly used to evaluate sensory processing difficulties, including:

  • Sensory Profile
  • Sensory Processing Measure (SPM)
  • Clinical Observations of Sensory Skills
  • Motor skill testing (can support underlying difficulties with sensory processing)

These assessments typically involve observing an individual’s behavior and responses to various sensory stimuli, as well as gathering information from caregivers or self-reports.

Multidisciplinary Approach

Due to the complex nature of sensory processing challenges and their potential overlap with other conditions, a multidisciplinary approach to assessment and diagnosis is often recommended. This may involve collaboration among occupational therapists, psychologists, pediatricians, and other healthcare professionals to ensure a comprehensive evaluation and appropriate intervention plan.

Therapeutic Interventions

While there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for sensory processing disorder, various therapeutic interventions can help individuals manage their sensory challenges and improve their overall functioning.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy plays a crucial role in addressing sensory processing difficulties. Occupational therapists (OTs) are trained to assess and provide interventions tailored to an individual’s specific sensory needs.

Sensory Integration Therapy

One of the primary interventions used by OTs is Sensory Integration Therapy (SI). This approach involves engaging individuals in fun, controlled activities that gradually expose them to sensory stimuli in a safe and supportive environment. Through these activities, individuals learn to modulate their responses and develop coping strategies for managing sensory input.

Sensory Diet

In addition to SI therapy, OTs may develop a “sensory diet” for individuals with SPD. A sensory diet is a personalized plan that incorporates various sensory activities into an individual’s daily routine. These activities are designed to help regulate sensory input, promote focus and organization, and support overall well-being.

Examples of activities that may be included in a sensory diet:

  • Jumping jacks or wall pushes for proprioceptive input
  • Swinging or rocking for vestibular stimulation
  • Fidget toys or stress balls for tactile input
  • Listening to music through headphones for auditory input
  • Chewing gum or crunchy snacks for oral-motor input

*It is important to note sensory diets require knowing what kind of input your child needs and why they are responding in a certain way. If your child does not respond as expected to a certain type of input it can be helpful to speak to an occupational therapist

kids hanging on a branch

Other Therapeutic Approaches

Depending on an individual’s specific needs and comorbidities, additional therapeutic approaches may be incorporated into their treatment plan:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for managing anxiety or emotional regulation challenges
  • Speech and Language Therapy for addressing communication difficulties
  • Physical Therapy for improving motor skills and coordination
  • Social Skills Training for enhancing interpersonal interactions and social competence

Accommodations and Supports

In addition to therapeutic interventions, individuals with sensory processing challenges may benefit from various accommodations and supports in their daily lives:

  • Classroom accommodations, such as providing a quiet workspace, allowing movement breaks, or using noise-canceling headphones
  • Workplace accommodations, such as adjusting lighting or noise levels, providing sensory-friendly workspaces, or offering flexible scheduling
  • Environmental modifications, such as reducing clutter, minimizing distractions, or providing sensory-friendly spaces
  • Assistive technology, such as noise-canceling headphones, weighted blankets, or fidget toys

By implementing appropriate accommodations and supports, individuals with SPD can better manage their sensory challenges and participate more fully in daily activities.

Coping Strategies for Daily Life

While professional interventions are essential for addressing sensory processing challenges, individuals and their caregivers can also implement various coping strategies to help manage sensory input in everyday life.

Sensory-Friendly Environments

Creating sensory-friendly environments can be beneficial for individuals with SPD. This may involve:

  • Minimizing clutter and visual distractions
  • Controlling noise levels and limiting exposure to loud or sudden sounds
  • Adjusting lighting to reduce glare or flickering
  • Providing comfortable seating options or sensory-friendly spaces for self-regulation

Sensory Breaks and Activities

Incorporating sensory breaks and activities into daily routines can help individuals with SPD manage their sensory input and maintain a sense of calm and focus. Examples include:

  • Deep breathing exercises or meditation
  • Engaging in calming or repetitive activities, such as squeezing a stress ball or coloring
  • Taking short movement breaks, such as stretching or going for a brief walk
  • Listening to calming music or white noise

Sensory Tools and Aids

Various sensory tools and aids can be helpful for individuals with SPD. These may include:

  • Noise-canceling headphones or earplugs for auditory input
  • Weighted blankets or vests for proprioceptive input
  • Fidget toys or stress balls for tactile stimulation
  • Chewable or oral-motor toys for oral-motor input
  • Sensory brushes or massagers for tactile input

Self-Advocacy and Communication

Effective communication and self-advocacy are essential for individuals with SPD to navigate their daily lives and advocate for their needs. This may involve:

  • Educating others about sensory processing challenges and individual needs
  • Communicating preferences and boundaries regarding sensory input
  • Requesting accommodations or modifications in various settings (e.g., school, work, social events)
  • Seeking support from understanding friends, family members, or support groups

By implementing these coping strategies and advocating for their needs, individuals with SPD can better manage their sensory challenges and enhance their overall quality of life.

Embracing Neurodiversity

While sensory processing challenges can present difficulties, it’s important to recognize and embrace the diversity of human experiences and neurological differences. Individuals with SPD often possess unique strengths and perspectives that can enrich their communities and contribute to a more inclusive and understanding society.

By promoting awareness, providing appropriate supports, and fostering an environment of acceptance and understanding, we can empower individuals with sensory processing challenges to thrive and reach their full potential.

Conclusion

Sensory processing disorder is a complex condition that affects how individuals perceive and respond to sensory input from their environment. While it can present challenges in daily life, a deeper understanding of SPD and its manifestations can lead to more effective interventions, accommodations, and coping strategies.

By working closely with healthcare professionals, such as occupational therapists, and implementing tailored therapeutic approaches and sensory-friendly environments, individuals with sensory processing challenges can strengthen adaptive neural pathways to lessen the severity as well as learn to manage and enhance their overall well-being. While it is never too late to strengthen sensory processing skills, earlier identification and intervention supports the building of these skills so they can cause less stress impacting other areas of life. 

Embracing neurodiversity and promoting awareness and acceptance of sensory processing differences can create a more inclusive and supportive society for individuals of all neurological profiles.

Remember, sensory processing challenges are not limitations but rather unique experiences that can be understood, accommodated, and celebrated as part of the rich tapestry of human diversity.

Table Top Sensory!

OT (Occupational Therapy)/Sensory based table top activities for school-aged children

Play is an important aspect to a child’s growth and development. It is a child’s primary occupation to play. The occupations of a person are the meaningful and purposeful activities we participate in during the day. Adults have different occupations than children, but sometimes it is important for everyone to play! A child develops functional skills, motor skills, language skills and interpersonal skills through play. Engaging in different types of activities at home can even help your child develop skills in the classroom. Play helps encourage all areas of development, from cognitive and physical to social and emotional. Some benefits of play are it builds self-esteem and confidence, develops problem-solving skills, encourages new vocabulary usage, teaches children to be alone and independent, allows children to release their emotions and encourages planning and thinking ahead. It can be a great tool for children to connect with their peers and the adults around them. Fine motor development is important for children to develop as well as gross motor development. At a preschool age children are working on both. Gross motor (large muscle groups) development can impact fine motor (small muscle groups). As a child builds stability in their core it allows more control in the hands etc. Since play can be filled with opportunities for development, here are some activities children can play at a table while encouraging fine motor growth and development.

Tape play

Picking at the edges of the tape is a fun way for little hands to develop fine motor dexterity. They are working on a pincer grasp (tip-to-tip pinch of the thumb and index finger)
Playing a word spelling game with boxes made out of tape. Have the child help tear the tape into bits (tripod grasp, working on small motor strength of the hand arches)

Tweezers play

Pick up large or small objects with tweezers. Put things in sand, rice or beans and have children try to tweeze them out. (Tripod grasp, working on separating the two sides of the hand in a small motor task)
Sort pom –poms by color or size with tweezers into cupcake tins, bowls or empty egg cartons. Have the child tweeze a pom- pom from one side of the body to the other. (Tripod grasp, working on crossing mid-line.)

Play dough play

Press thick beads into play dough with the thumb in a bent position. This helps encourage development of an appropriate pencil grasp. (Working on the muscles needed to oppose with an open web space and flex the tip of the thumb.
Using play dough mats or the surface of a table play utilize play dough by pushing, smashing, rolling, and pulling it apart. Make sure the whole arm is involved in manipulating the dough! (Working on finger, shoulder and arm strength that helps support an age appropriate writing grasp.)

Pipe cleaner play

After tying a knot at one end, have the child hold the pipe cleaner with one hand and bead with the other. Using beads with smaller openings will require the child to use more finger strength. Make patterns with colors or shapes for more fun! (Working tip-to-tip pinch of the thumb, index finger and eye/hand coordination. )
Place an upside down colander on the table. Use various sized pipe cleaners to poke through the holes. Make designs and patterns using different colors. Try to get the same pipe cleaner in more than one hole. Add a time challenge for older children to see how many they can place in 30 seconds. (Working on pincer grasp, eye/hand coordination, bilateral coordination and sequencing.)

Water play

Sort water beads by color or size using a spoon or measuring cup. Place water beads in a bin or a sink and have the child scoop and sort into cups or buckets.
Filling up a container with water, have the child use a turkey baster or plastic pipettes to squeeze water in and out.. Add food coloring, sparkles or bath toys for more sensory play. For younger children, use a sponge he or she can squeeze out after dipping it into the water bin. (Tripod grasp, working on pinching and fine motor strength/ coordination.)

How to be Your Child’s “Emotion Coach”

We are born with an innate capacity to feel. In fact, our emotions serve a survival function. A newborn baby lacks the ability to communicate verbally with her parents – she can’t tell you that she’s hungry, tired, or needs a change. What she can do, though, is express her discontentment with a sharp cry, which immediately mobilizes you to tend to her needs. She doesn’t produce this cry intentionally – it’s simply her body’s natural mechanism to protect her livelihood.

Thus, we are hardwired to experience and exhibit different emotions (including the six universal emotions: happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, and anger) long before our brains are mature enough to really process and understand them. The frontal lobe, which is the brain’s emotional control hub, as well as the system that is responsible for logic, reasoning, judgment, and personality, doesn’t fully develop until age 25. This means that as children and teens mature and experience more complex emotions, their ability to comprehend and regulate those emotions is still catching up.

While kids are in the throes of learning to process their feelings, parents can help scaffold them towards healthy emotional expression. Read on for some tips on how to help children become masters of emotions:

Build Their Emotional Vocabulary. 

mom sitting on bed with son

In order to master emotions, children need to be able to name them. Having a label for what they are experiencing is comforting because it creates a sense of familiarity (“I know what this is, I’ve felt this way before”) and puts your child in control – he can draw on memories of when he’s felt that way in the past and how he’s handled it. Labeling also creates some distance from the feelings (think of the Snickers tagline: “You’re not you when you’re hungry”) – it helps your child separate his personality (which is more stable) from his emotions (which are constantly changing). Finally, feelings labels are validating – they help remind him that he is human, and that his feelings are totally normal.

A fun way to build emotion literacy is by playing feelings charades. Sit down with your child and make a list together of every single feelings word you both can think of. This is a great opportunity to assess how expansive his vocabulary is and help teach some new words (if he understands the word “surprised”, maybe he can learn more nuanced off-shoots of that emotion, such as “startled”, “confused”, “amazed”, or “excited”).

Once you’ve got a solid list, cut out each feeling word, throw them all in a hat, and take turns picking words and acting out the feelings for the other to guess! When it’s your turn to guess, comment on what you’re seeing your child do (“Hmm, you’re furrowing your brow, your mouth is turned down a little, and you’re holding your hands in fists – I think you’re angry!”). When it’s his turn, ask him how he knew what feeling you were acting out!

Following is a sample list of feelings words to help you get going:

Happy Brave Sick Courageous
Calm Loving Curious Frustrated
Proud Shy Jealous Worried
Excited Afraid Interested Scared
Sad Anxious Embarrassed Disgusted
Tired Angry Ashamed Guilty
Exhausted Mad Disappointed Pleased

Label Emotions. 

many expressions of a woman

Now that you have a good idea of what emotions she knows and can recognize, use those feelings words often in everyday conversation. Label what you’re feeling (“I’m feeling really happy playing this game with you”), label what she’s feeling (“I see that you’re crying. You look like you’re feeling sad that your friend couldn’t come over today.”), label what characters in books or TV shows are feeling (“Wow, Alexander feels really mad about his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day!”). This practice helps build her emotional awareness and teach her that it’s okay (in fact, it’s good!) to talk about feelings.

Coach Them to Use Feelings Language in the Moment. 

father discipling son

We naturally feel emotions very physiologically, but it takes practice to articulate those feelings verbally. Now that you’ve been practicing learning and using emotional language, guide him to describe his own feelings. Some children start by verbalizing their feelings inappropriately, such as making comments such as, “I hate you,” when they’re mad with you. Rather than getting upset with your child for making this comment, try to read between the lines and help him learn to say what he really means – this can be as simple as responding, “You’re really mad at me.” By showing him that you understand, it will help build trust in your relationship and scaffold him towards being able to use more effective means of communicating his feelings.

Praise Emotional Expression. 

Give your child positive feedback for any attempts she makes to communicate her emotions, even if she doesn’t do so in the most productive way. For example, if she is throwing a massive temper tantrum (think stomping feet, throwing toys, rolling around on the ground…), but at some point in the mayhem, she’s able to say, “I’m mad!”, jump on the opportunity to thank her for telling you how she feels. If she’s calm enough to hear you, you can add, “Now that I know that you’re feeling mad, we can work together to help you feel better.” This will show her that sharing her feelings, particularly when they feel out of her control, can beget the help she needs to learn how to manage them.

Model Emotional Expression and Control. 

To help your child learn how to communicate his feelings using words, show him how. Talk about your own feelings in developmentally appropriate ways, and talk out what strategies you might use to help yourself feel better if you’re feeling bad. Be careful to maintain appropriate boundaries – I’m not suggesting you go and air all your dirty laundry to your child! But a lot of parents feel like they need to hold it together and not show their children when they’re distressed. The reality is that no matter how good an actor you are, your children know you well and can probably guess how you’re feeling, so you might as well own your emotions as an opportunity to build their emotion muscles. Children also have a tendency to feed off their parents’ emotions, so by sharing and working through your own feelings, you are simultaneously helping them work through theirs.

Let’s say there’s a sick relative in the family, and you’re worried about them. Your child probably feels the same way. It’s healthy to have an open conversation about this. You could say something like, “You might notice I’m a little down today. I’m feeling sad because grandma is sick, and I wish she were feeling better.” Now that you’ve put your feelings out there, you and your child can talk about what it’s like for each of you when you’re sad, and what helps each of you to feel better. You can even solicit your child’s help in engaging in an activity that would help you both feel more regulated (for example, “I think it would make me feel better if I sent her a letter with some pictures. Would you help me pick out which pictures to send?”). 

Discussing feelings openly helps to demystify them and empower your children to feel in control of them. The more you can coach them to be “emotion masters”, the more effective everybody is likely to be in communicating with each other!

Managing Strong Emotions

Managing Strong Emotional Reactions in Children and Teens

Woman in Gray Tank Top

Have you ever been so overwhelmed with an emotion that it felt all-consuming? Like you were stuck in a deep, dark emotion pit without a ladder? When emotions take the reins, they can make it really hard to focus on the situation at hand, to process logical reasoning, and to problem-solve. The crippling impact of overwhelming emotion is even stronger for children and adolescents, because they are still developing neurologically and don’t have the same capacities as adults to self-regulate. So what is a parent to do when their child is swallowed up by fear, worry, anger, or sadness? Following are some tips to help you help your child manage strong emotions:

Address the Emotion

Father holding cheeks of son in face mask

When children or teens are having meltdowns, many parents try to speak to them rationally. While parents do this with the best of intentions, the problem is that when somebody is in an emotional tailspin, the logical part of their brain is completely shut down. Even the most revelatory comment will go straight over their heads until the emotional arousal comes down.

So when emotion carries your child away, instead of trying to problem-solve, start by addressing the emotion. If they are too far gone to access language, label the emotion for them (e.g., “I can see that you are very upset”) and validate why they feel so upset, even if you feel they are behaving inappropriately (e.g., “I understand that you are really mad that you have to finish your homework before you watch TV”). Oftentimes having somebody acknowledge how you feel helps bring the level of the emotion down to a tolerable level, which then makes it easier to reflect, redirect, and problem-solve.

Help Your Child Ground

Person Wearing Red Hoodie

Another way to bring down emotional arousal is to force the brain to think about something else. “Grounding” skills are techniques that are designed to direct your focus to something occurring in the present moment, rather than having your brain carried off by emotion.

One helpful grounding skill is the 5 Senses Activity. Guide your child to identify:

  • 5 things they can see
  • 4 things they can hear
  • 3 things they can touch
  • 2 things they can smell, and
  • 1 thing they can taste.

In a pinch, you can do even simpler grounding activities, such as counting activities (e.g., How many light switches do you see in the room? How many tiles are on the floor? How many surfaces can you sit on?). Try it yourself right now – the more you have to focus on something in your immediate environment, the harder it is for your brain to get distracted by anything else, which gives your emotions time to cool off.

Preempt the Emotion

Close-up Photography Of A Girl Eating Bread

These first couple skills are for use in the moment, when the emotion has already taken over. In the long run, it can help to identify patterns and warning signs. Spend some time observing your child and getting a feel for common triggers. This can help you preempt significant escalations in emotion (for example, if your child tends to get “hangry”, save difficult conversations for after they’ve had a snack).

That said, it’s also good for children to learn to “build the muscle” of tolerating difficult emotion (the world won’t always be able to accommodate them as well as a parent can!), but this needs to happen in a graduated way. In calm, quiet moments, work with your child to help them identify when they tend to get upset and how they know their emotions are rising. What do they feel in their body? What thoughts go through their head? Once they become familiar enough with their own signs of emotional arousal, they can practice self-regulation skills before it’s too late, such as deep breathing, positive mental imagery, or separating themselves from a difficult situation. At first, you may need to help guide them to use these skills when you notice an uptick in emotional arousal, but in time, these skills will become more automatic, and they will be better able to initiate self-regulation strategies independently.

Model Self-Regulation Skills

Child With Woman Holding Map

Children learn about emotions from those around them. The more you are able to regulate your own emotions, the more they learn to do so themselves. This doesn’t mean being an emotion robot – many parents worry about their kids seeing them upset. What’s most helpful to kids is to see that it’s okay to feel these feelings (at safe levels), and that there’s something they can do about it. So when you’re upset about things, it’s healthy to let it show in front of your kids in small doses, to talk about your feelings in developmentally-appropriate language, and most importantly, to talk about what you’re going to do to help yourself feel more calm. Young children will enjoy joining you in self-regulation activities, such as the ones listed above, and it will be good practice for them to get into the habit!

Build Your Own Tolerance For Their Distress

Ethnic father and kid relaxing in bedroom

While children are growing, their bodies are too small to handle the big emotions they sometimes feel. It is typical for children to have big reactions to strong feelings while they get the hang of self-regulation. The goal is to help them feel confident in their abilities to self-soothe, but this doesn’t happen overnight, and too much pressure to regulate faster than their bodies are capable of can hinder the process. 

When your child is having a meltdown, remind yourself that they are doing their best in that moment, and you can continue to help them build their regulatory muscles when they are calm again. Take a few deep breaths, and trust that if you are able to stay regulated yourself in those most difficult of moments, it will help your child see that they are safe and protected by you even when they don’t feel safe and protected in their own bodies. And remind yourself that you are doing your best, too! Learning to self-regulate is hard work for everybody. It’s okay if it feels impossible sometimes. It will become easier in time!

Still too much?

As always, reach out to us if you need more information or help.

The ‘Senses’ and Skills of Gardening

Gardening is fun! Photo by Maggie

Gardening is a great, enriching activity to perform, especially for children – not just in the summer, but in the fall as well. Children naturally learn and develop novel skills, through the interactions that they have with their environments. Gardening enables children to build upon these skills in a natural environment and it allows them to be exposed to various forms of sensory input.  

The Seven Senses

We all are familiar with our five external senses:

  • Sight (visual)
  • Smell (olfactory) 
  • Touch (tactile)
  • Taste (gustatory) 
  • Hearing (auditory)

However, we also have two internal, lesser-known senses:

  • Vestibular
  • Proprioception

The Vestibular System is located in our inner ears and is activated when we move our head in space (up/down, side to side, or lateral direction).

The Proprioceptive System is located in the receptors of our muscles and joints, and is activated any time one performs an activity that entails pushing, pulling, or lifting an object (or in other terms “heavy-work” activities).  The proprioceptive system also acts as a regulator. When the proprioceptive system is activated it releases a neurotransmitter, serotonin, which is calming to the nervous system. Gardening is an activity that can provide proprioceptive input, by one actively engaging in the performance of heavy-work tasks (i.e. carrying a filled watering can). A child who may experience sensory processing difficulties naturally seeks out this type of input, in order to help them be in a more regulated state.

The ‘Senses’ of Gardening 

Stop to smell the flowers. Photo by Tetyana Kovyrina

Think about this: Before heading outside, you apply sunscreen (tactile input). When you step outside of your house, you are hit with an array of sensory stimuli (visual, olfactory, auditory, and/or tactile). Initially, you feel the warmth of the sun hitting your face (tactile input). You grab your tools and place them in your wheelbarrow filled with the flowers and herbs you had just recently bought. Then you wheel the wheelbarrow over to your garden (proprioceptive input). You empty out the contents of the wheelbarrow, bend down, and sit on top of your knees (proprioceptive input). Then grab your hand shovel and start digging holes in the soil, looking down at the garden bed below (proprioceptive and vestibular input). As you’re digging, you feel the dirt slightly touch your hands (tactile input). You suddenly hear a bumblebee buzzing past your ear (auditory input). You stand up and look around (up/down and left/right) to see where the bumblebee flew (vestibular input).  And to think, this is just the beginning of the sensory input that one may experience while gardening. 

No Green Thumb Needed 

A green thumb is not needed, but is handy (pun intended). Photo by Dung Tran

As mentioned, gardening works on numerous skills, in a fun and interactive manner. Below is a list of skills (not all inclusive) with some examples that one may be working on while engaging in this activity.

FINE MOTOR SKILLS

  • Fine motor precision – Carefully placing one seed at a time into individual cells of a seed tray.
  • Bi-manual coordination – Opening up a seed packet – stabilizing the packet with one hand, and utilizing the other to open it.
  • In-hand manipulation – Placing seeds in the palm of your hand, and manipulating one seed at a time into the pads of the fingers to place into a container (palm to finger translation).
  • Promotes grasping patterns (i.e. pincer grasp) – Picking up a seed with the thumb and index finger. 

GROSS MOTOR SKILLS

  • Strength 
  • Endurance
  • Bilateral coordination

DISCRIMINATION SKILLS

  • Proprioceptive Discrimination (the ability to grade force on an object)
    • While removing a plant from a plastic pot, one must grade  their force appropriately. Pulling too hard could result in one  accidentally removing stems or leaves off of the plant.
  • Tactile discrimination (the ability to feel an object without relying on the visual system)
    • Feeling different sized seeds in the palm of one’s hand, without the need to look.

SEQUENCING SKILLS

MOTOR PLANNING / PRAXIS SKILLS

BODY / SPATIAL AWARENESS

EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING SKILLS

AND MORE…

Gardening can also help improve one’s:

  • patience (delayed gratification),
  • frustration tolerance,
  • cognitive flexibility (as one may need to change their original plan), and
  • social skills (if working with another peer or family member). 

Create Your Own ‘Sensory Garden’ 

A ‘sensory garden’ can incorporate a mix of plants and/or garden décor, to provide one with a unique, sensory experience. 

  • Visual  – Utilizing plants with vibrant or different colors, varied heights, or those simply unique in nature, can provide some visual input to one’s garden.  
  • Olfactory – There are an abundance of plants that have scents. Think of herbs that you may use while cooking, like rosemary or basil. 
  • Tactile – Plants with texture – soft, hard, spikey, or bumpy – are a fun way to add tactile input to your garden. Providing different landscape textures (i.e. sand, rocks, or mulch) are another way to provide additional tactile input.
  • Gustatory – Think of herbs, fruits, or vegetables that you can grow, and eventually eat!
  • Auditory – Provide your garden with sound by either hanging up a wind chime or perhaps having a water source (like a small fountain). 

Have fun, and be creative. There is no right or wrong way when designing your own garden!

————————————————————————————————————

If you or your child has any allergies (i.e. environmental, oils in plants, insect bites, etc.), there are other alternatives that can be performed (i.e. utilizing faux flowers). 

Due to these unprecedented times, many local garden centers/nurseries are now offering free contactless delivery or contactless curbside pickup to ensure the safety of their customers. 

“I’m Bored”


“I’m Bored”: Down Time and Praxis at Home

Woman in White Long Sleeve Shirt Sitting on Black Chair

As we continue to practice social distancing, we all have a lot more free time on our hands than we are typically used to. While the beginning of quarantine may have been very productive, the motivation for most of us has diminished over the long months. Recently, you may notice that you and your family are having an increasingly difficult time coming up with constructive activities to do and are turning towards technology more and more. This can be particularly true during school breaks that would typically be spent visiting family or traveling, but now are filled with hours of down time. Your children (or spouse) may be coming to you more saying: “I’m bored”, despite having many things to do around the house. This feeling, one we know all too well, can be amplified for children that have difficulty with praxis.

What is Praxis?

Praxis is often associated with motor planning or planning movement, but this is really only the tip of the iceberg. More specifically, praxis is the neurological process where cognition directs motor actions (Ayres, 1985). In other words, praxis is the planning of what to do and how to do it

Man Wearing Black and White Stripe Shirt Looking at White Printer Papers on the Wall

In practice, praxis is the complex series of events that an individual’s body must execute in order to produce a desired outcome.

  1. First, we must conceive the idea of what to do using ideation (i.e. kicking a soccer ball into the net);
  2. Then, we have to plan how we are going to achieve the desired outcome using motor planning (i.e. giving self a running start and kick with your right foot).
  3. Next, we need to execute the movement correctly in order to be successful (i.e. kick the ball with enough force and good aim);
  4. Lastly, we need to be able to reflect on the feedback from the movement to adapt our actions to increase likelihood of success for the future (i.e. kick the ball harder using a longer running start);

For most people, praxis is a complex process that we take for granted since it occurs mostly automatically. However, for some children, learning novel activities is something that requires extra practice and effort due to a missing piece in the multi-step process. In today’s society where a lot of activities are planned and video games have rigid objectives and processes, praxis can be underdeveloped simply because it has not been practiced! Think of riding a bike; while most people learn this skill at a young age and practice it throughout their lives, there are adults that have never learned how to ride! Similarly with praxis, if we didn’t learn and practice this skill as children, we may not have developed it fully.  Either way, working on praxis can help everyone, especially when we think of what to do in down time.

Signs of Praxis Difficulty 

Green and Black Coffee Mug on Air

If your child is having difficulty with praxis, you may observe:

  • Difficulty learning new motor skills or requiring more practice time than their peers (i.e. riding a bike, learning a dance, etc.).
  • Appearing clumsy or uncoordinated.
  • Unable to follow multi-step directions to complete a physical task (i.e. an obstacle course). This becomes particularly apparent with verbal cues (instead of visually demonstration) 
  • Avoidance of gross motor or novel activities.
  • Difficulty retrieving the right materials for a play activity.
  • Appearance of laziness and incomplete work (Caused by not knowing how to start).
  • Failure to perform movement(s) safely. 
  • Difficulty knowing where their body is in space.
  • Frequent falling, tripping, or bumping into obstacles.

Praxis Difficulties & Technology Use

Flat Screen Monitor Turned-on in Office

Simply put, technology is both a blessing and a curse. Even prior to the pandemic, balancing technology and physical play was a common concern voiced by parents. However, during the pandemic, the world has increased its reliance on technology to include almost all daily functions. From attending remote school to having virtual holiday parties, technology has become one of the only outlets to safely interact with the people around us. With this increased reliance on technology, children and parents are having an increasingly difficult time separating the now blurred boundaries between productive technology use and “down-time” technology use. Video games and YouTube videos are a preferred activity for children with praxis difficulties because it eliminates the need to come up with activities to do independently. Technology use also fulfills our natural need for stimulation and impacts the pleasure systems of the brain by releasing dopamine and can, therefore, become addictive. In addition to making children feel good, it is often used more so as a crutch for children with praxis difficulties due to their difficulty with planning and executing activities. Methods to decrease technology reliance include but are not limited to: setting “tech free” breaks, fostering motivation by including siblings, giving explicit ideas of activities, encouraging outdoor play, and setting expectations for screen time and down time.

Home Praxis Activities 

Man in Blue Polo Shirt and Woman in Beige Pants Sitting on Blue and White Mat

Try these activities to try at home to increase praxis skills:

  • Simon Says
    Can help improve ability to spontaneously movement plan and improve body awareness.
  • Floor is Lava
    Can help to improve ideation and problem solving skills determining safe and efficient ways to avoid touching the floor. 
  • Unstable Obstacle Course
    Create an obstacle course with unstable surfaces: walking or climbing over unstable surfaces is a great way to increase strength and motor plan unpredictable movements. 
  • Twister
    Increase body awareness while building upon the problem solving skills to determine the best way to move your body with obstacles. 
  • Yoga Cards
    In addition to the many benefits of yoga, it challenges the ability to process and motor plan actions by giving a visual demonstration of the movement. 
  • Animal Walks
    Increase problem solving and ideation naming an animal and having your child act out how the animal would move. 
  • New Card Game
    Learn a new card game and teach the family
  • Heads Up
    This is a great way to help your child learn how to describe a particular topic/word
  • Mix ‘N Match
    Give your child 5 items and see how many different ways they can use them! For example play dough, a coin, a string, a cup and a marble!
  • Charades
    Can help improve ideation of desired movement and increase problem solving and processing when conceptualizing the other person’s movement.
  • DIY
    Create your own game! Don’t forget to tag us @SascoRiver in your creations.

Tips for Praxis

Woman Holding A Poster On Proper Hand Washing

Tips for children with praxis difficulties

  • Use “first, then” language
    This helps the child understand what sequence they need to complete the demand. For example, “first have a snack, then start your homework.” 
  • Break instructions into parts
    Instead of saying, “go and get your shoes and backpack and go outside”, say “get your shoes”. Once that direction is accomplished, you can continue to the next direction, “get your backpack”, and etc.
  • Give visual cues
    Children with praxis difficulties can rely heavily on their visual system to “mimic” novel motor actions. Giving a visual cue for an action will increase the ease of processing the movement. 
  • Physical cues
    Physically guide the child through the action so that they can learn what the movement feels like. 
  • Repetition
    Practicing the movement allows for increased success rate and increased confidence. 

“I’m Bored” 

Dices and Wooden Pieces on Game Board

Adapt to Praxis challenges during long breaks from school with these tips:

  • Activity Bingo
    Use a blank bingo board and put different activities for your child to do in them, you can even have them help you fill it out. You can give a little extra “tech time” or other reward every time they get Bingo! 
  • Make a visual “menu” of activities
    Sometimes it is helpful for children to visually “see” options
  • Make a new game!
    Keeping things new and novel can increase motivation to participate, including others can also help. For example, have your child make a scavenger hunt for other family members and then take turns doing the scavenger hunt. The act of making it works on praxis and increases the time engaged!
  • Have your child “video” their activity to send to family members
    While this uses some technology, helping your child feel connected to others while doing a physically engaging activity can be more regulating than simply using technology. 
  • Make a visual schedule
    This can help children to visualize when it is time for “tech” and time to engage in other activities. While we typically think of this for scheduling extracurriculars, it can also help to know when it will be time for their “preferred” down time activity is within the house

Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about praxis, see these resources:

Biking (& Sensory)

Riding a bike is fun. It’s a nostalgic, warm-weather activity, passed down from generation to generation. It’s an enjoyable experience on many levels, and can be either an exciting social activity, or relaxing individual experience. It can even be a great way to get in a bit of welcome exercise! Bike riding also stimulates the vestibular system. This system, which is located in our inner ear and detects movement, helps our body to make adjustments and corrections to maintain balance and complete gross motor skills efficiently. This input can be regulating for many, which is why after a nice bike ride it can be hard to get a rider off their bikes, but when they do, they are more relaxed.  

Learning to ride a bike, however, can be a difficult and trying experience for both the child and the teacher. In the end, though, it’s well worth the process. Though the therapeutic benefits of biking are numerous, biking doesn’t come easily to everybody! Not to fear; we can learn together.

Learning to Ride

Toddler's Pink Bike Near Wall

Particularly for children with delayed motor skills, coordination and motor planning difficulties and/or low muscle tone, learning to ride a bike can be challenging (to say the least). At Sasco River Center, we work diligently with your child creating strategies and developing the skills required for them to ride their bikes safely and independently. During bike camp, your child will participate in games, activities, and crafts all geared towards getting your child riding his or her bike through mastering one skill at a time. Learning to ride a bike is beneficial to your child mentally, socially, physically and developmentally. Riding a bike helps to strengthen your heart muscles and build stamina promoting health awareness at such an early age. Children develop a sense of responsibility and independence as well as gain confidence from learning how to ride a bike. Riding a bike with peers and neighbors allows for your child to interact and build social skills with other children in an active environment. Biking is a great activity for a child to get outside while still working on their core strength, balance and muscular coordination, all while having fun!

By the way, there is no “right” age to learn to ride a bike, but if your child is ready, check out some tips below!

3 Secrets to Teaching Bike Riding

Secret 1: Don’t use “training wheels”

No Training Wheels Allowed! | by Steve Nazarian | LinkedIn
  • They teach kids to balance on training wheelsnot on their own two wheels
  • They are slow and inhibiting (even for the best of riders – and I’ve seen some VERY proficient training-wheel riders.)
  • They don’t do corners well, and in fact teach muscle memory of the wrong technique.
  • They become an unnecessary crutch that prolongs a movement towards riding without training wheels at all.
  • Either simply remove pedals from an existing bike, or get a balance bike. (You can get a balance bike on Amazon for less than $100)

Secret 2: Start with developing trust in their own body

The best way to teach a child to ride a bike | Seattle's Child
  • Build up skills. First try having them keep their feel flat on the ground while they walk the bike. This way, they get to experience the sensation of leaning without falling. As an aside, make sure the bike fits properly; your child should be able to stand flat-footed over the top bar of the bike. If in doubt, a smaller bike is better than a larger bike. (As another aside, if you want to see truly AMAZING kids bikes, check THESE out! If I could back in time, I’d get one of them.)
  • Assure them that their feet will keep them from falling as they walk the bike forward and experience the sensation of leaning without falling. 
  • Eventually, they learn to trust their body. It’s at this point when lessons become fun. Students are now motivated and excited to learn!

Secret 3: Be calm, present and patient

mom consoling her son who fell off his bike
  • This is more about you than your Child, but trust us, it helps.
  • The goal is to decrease anxiety and fear, while boosting confidence. Your calm and patient presence helps them maintain the desire to continue working while they experience setbacks and unfamiliar sensations.
  • Our demeanor, particular when children are learning a challenging new activity, very much affects children’s responses to learning something new. 

Biking Fun At Home

It is never too early to start working on skills to help our kids learn to ride a bike.

Here are some activities to work on balance and coordination for our early bikers. These skills will help work on balance, which is certainly one of the most important steps to becoming an independent rider. Here are some biking activities seen at bike camp that you can do at home once your child is ready for the bike.

Off the Bike Activities

Try these to “warm up” our balance before getting on the bike

  • Jumping on each foot 10x with arms out to side
  • Walk across a line pretending you’re on a tight rope with arms out to side

Scavenger hunt

bike riding scavenger hunt checklist

While on bike, have children go around looking for nature items outside to work on all aspects of biking such as coordination, balance, motor planning and strength. (The child can be scooting, gliding or pedaling)

Red Light, Green Light

Three children practice scooting and gliding on bikes with no pedals

Red Light = STOP, Green Light = GO & Yellow Light = SLOW DOWN.

How To Play: Start with everyone along the starting line, When you say ‘Green Light’ everyone will move towards the finish line, When you say ‘Red Light’ everyone must immediately stop. If players are still moving when you call ‘Red Light’, they must go back to the starting line.

BONUS TIP: To get your child more involved, have them come up with a color and a rule/ movement for that corresponding color to add into the game. 

Want more? Try Bike Camp/Lessons with us!

Do your kids want to learn how to ride a bike? We can help! Sasco River bike camp can help your children gain the confidence and skills needed in order to get pedaling! At the end of bike camp, your child will walk away with not only confidence and a fun experience, but also a biking “license” to remember their hard work and dedication.  Find out more HERE, or email us: hello@sascoriver.com.

mom helping her son learn to ride a bike

By-Line Note

Though Mark Maidique is listed as the Author, this post was written by a team of Mark Maidique, Teresa Salzillo, and Deanna Lindberg.

“I’m Bored”


“I’m Bored”: Down Time and Praxis at Home

Woman in White Long Sleeve Shirt Sitting on Black Chair

As we continue to practice social distancing, we all have a lot more free time on our hands than we are typically used to. While the beginning of quarantine may have been very productive, the motivation for most of us has diminished over the long months. Recently, you may notice that you and your family are having an increasingly difficult time coming up with constructive activities to do and are turning towards technology more and more. This can be particularly true during school breaks that would typically be spent visiting family or traveling, but now are filled with hours of down time. Your children (or spouse) may be coming to you more saying: “I’m bored”, despite having many things to do around the house. This feeling, one we know all too well, can be amplified for children that have difficulty with praxis.

What is Praxis?

Praxis is often associated with motor planning or planning movement, but this is really only the tip of the iceberg. More specifically, praxis is the neurological process where cognition directs motor actions (Ayres, 1985). In other words, praxis is the planning of what to do and how to do it

Man Wearing Black and White Stripe Shirt Looking at White Printer Papers on the Wall

In practice, praxis is the complex series of events that an individual’s body must execute in order to produce a desired outcome.

  1. First, we must conceive the idea of what to do using ideation (i.e. kicking a soccer ball into the net);
  2. Then, we have to plan how we are going to achieve the desired outcome using motor planning (i.e. giving self a running start and kick with your right foot).
  3. Next, we need to execute the movement correctly in order to be successful (i.e. kick the ball with enough force and good aim);
  4. Lastly, we need to be able to reflect on the feedback from the movement to adapt our actions to increase likelihood of success for the future (i.e. kick the ball harder using a longer running start);

For most people, praxis is a complex process that we take for granted since it occurs mostly automatically. However, for some children, learning novel activities is something that requires extra practice and effort due to a missing piece in the multi-step process. In today’s society where a lot of activities are planned and video games have rigid objectives and processes, praxis can be underdeveloped simply because it has not been practiced! Think of riding a bike; while most people learn this skill at a young age and practice it throughout their lives, there are adults that have never learned how to ride! Similarly with praxis, if we didn’t learn and practice this skill as children, we may not have developed it fully.  Either way, working on praxis can help everyone, especially when we think of what to do in down time.

Signs of Praxis Difficulty 

Green and Black Coffee Mug on Air

If your child is having difficulty with praxis, you may observe:

  • Difficulty learning new motor skills or requiring more practice time than their peers (i.e. riding a bike, learning a dance, etc.).
  • Appearring clumsy or uncoordinated.
  • Unable to follow multi-step directions to complete a physical task (i.e. an obstacle course). This becomes particularly apparent with verbal cues (instead of visually demonstration) 
  • Avoidance of gross motor or novel activities.
  • Difficulty retrieving the right materials for a play activity.
  • Appearance of laziness and incomplete work (Caused by not knowing how to start).
  • Failure to perform movement(s) safely. 
  • Difficulty knowing where their body is in space.
  • Frequent falling, tripping, or bumping into obstacles.

Praxis Difficulties & Technology Use

Flat Screen Monitor Turned-on in Office

Simply put, technology is both a blessing and a curse. Even prior to the pandemic, balancing technology and physical play was a common concern voiced by parents. However, during the pandemic, the world has increased its reliance on technology to include almost all daily functions. From attending remote school to having virtual holiday parties, technology has become one of the only outlets to safely interact with the people around us. With this increased reliance on technology, children and parents are having an increasingly difficult time separating the now blurred boundaries between productive technology use and “down-time” technology use. Video games and YouTube videos are a preferred activity for children with praxis difficulties because it eliminates the need to come up with activities to do independently. Technology use also fulfills our natural need for stimulation and impacts the pleasure systems of the brain by releasing dopamine and can, therefore, become addictive. In addition to making children feel good, it is often used more so as a crutch for children with praxis difficulties due to their difficulty with planning and executing activities. Methods to decrease technology reliance include but are not limited to: setting “tech free” breaks, fostering motivation by including siblings, giving explicit ideas of activities, encouraging outdoor play, and setting expectations for screen time and down time.

Home Praxis Activities 

Man in Blue Polo Shirt and Woman in Beige Pants Sitting on Blue and White Mat

Try these activities to try at home to increase praxis skills:

  • Simon Says
    Can help improve ability to spontaneously movement plan and improve body awareness.
  • Floor is Lava
    Can help to improve ideation and problem solving skills determining safe and efficient ways to avoid touching the floor. 
  • Unstable Obstacle Course
    Create an obstacle course with unstable surfaces: walking or climbing over unstable surfaces is a great way to increase strength and motor plan unpredictable movements. 
  • Twister
    Increase body awareness while building upon the problem solving skills to determine the best way to move your body with obstacles. 
  • Yoga Cards
    In addition to the many benefits of yoga, it challenges the ability to process and motor plan actions by giving a visual demonstration of the movement. 
  • Animal Walks
    Increase problem solving and ideation naming an animal and having your child act out how the animal would move. 
  • New Card Game
    Learn a new card game and teach the family
  • Heads Up
    This is a great way to help your child learn how to describe a particular topic/word
  • Mix ‘N Match
    Give your child 5 items and see how many different ways they can use them! For example play dough, a coin, a string, a cup and a marble!
  • Charades
    Can help improve ideation of desired movement and increase problem solving and processing when conceptualizing the other person’s movement.
  • DIY
    Create your own game! Don’t forget to tag us @SascoRiver in your creations.

Tips for Praxis

Woman Holding A Poster On Proper Hand Washing

Tips for children with praxis difficulties

  • Use “first, then” language
    This helps the child understand what sequence they need to complete the demand. For example, “first have a snack, then start your homework.” 
  • Break instructions into parts
    Instead of saying, “go and get your shoes and backpack and go outside”, say “get your shoes”. Once that direction is accomplished, you can continue to the next direction, “get your backpack”, and etc.
  • Give visual cues
    Children with praxis difficulties can rely heavily on their visual system to “mimic” novel motor actions. Giving a visual cue for an action will increase the ease of processing the movement. 
  • Physical cues
    Physically guide the child through the action so that they can learn what the movement feels like. 
  • Repetition
    Practicing the movement allows for increased success rate and increased confidence. 

“I’m Bored” 

Dices and Wooden Pieces on Game Board

Adapt to Praxis challenges during long breaks from school with these tips:

  • Activity Bingo
    Use a blank bingo board and put different activities for your child to do in them, you can even have them help you fill it out. You can give a little extra “tech time” or other reward every time they get Bingo! 
  • Make a visual “menu” of activities
    Sometimes it is helpful for children to visually “see” options
  • Make a new game!
    Keeping things new and novel can increase motivation to participate, including others can also help. For example, have your child make a scavenger hunt for other family members and then take turns doing the scavenger hunt. The act of making it works on praxis and increases the time engaged!
  • Have your child “video” their activity to send to family members
    While this uses some technology, helping your child feel connected to others while doing a physically engaging activity can be more regulating than simply using technology. 
  • Make a visual schedule
    This can help children to visualize when it is time for “tech” and time to engage in other activities. While we typically think of this for scheduling extracurriculars, it can also help to know when it will be time for their “preferred” down time activity is within the house
Further Reading

If you’re interested in learning more about praxis, see these resources: