Saturday, July 31, 2010

Additives in Food Aren't Good For Us

My children not only have food allergies, but they are also sensitive to so many foods including additives and dyes. Their symptoms include irritability, over-emotional reactions, fatigue, and diarrhea. The foods they are sensitive to do not show up as an allergy on an IgE test. Many of the kids that I work with also have the same problem, but because they have developmental delays it is harder for them to tell us they have a tummy ache or we just blow off their tantrums as part of the developmental delay. The truth is that many of the processed foods, additives, and chemicals that are a part of our diet aren't good for any of us. I try my best to buy organic foods as well as natural products without trans-fats, dyes, yeast, and other additives; but to say that it is easy to do this would be a lie. It does mean that I spend a lot of time reading labels and investigating products on the internet before I go shopping. One website that has provided me with some great information is Feingold:


Since 75% of our immune system is in our gastro-intestinal tract it makes since to treat it right and eat natural products without all of those additives!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Normal Growth And Development Of Premature Infants - Care Guide

Recently, a friend of mine had her baby girl four weeks early. She had so many questions for me about what to expect for her "premature" daughter. Some included: Will she "catch up" soon? Will she be shorter than her peers? Will she always be at risk for respiratory infections? Will she ever sleep through the night? and the list went on. Here is a link to provide basic information on prematurity:

Normal Growth And Development Of Premature Infants - Care Guide

At work, some of the babies I work with were born only slightly early such as at 34-35 weeks gestation whereas other babies were born as soon as 24-25 weeks gestation. Obviously, the preemies who were born under 1000 grams at 28 weeks or sooner have many more health problems than those born just a month early. But either way, it is smart for the child to have a thorough developmental assessment with a local early childhood intervention (ECI) program once the baby gets to go home. ECI can help with developmental needs including feeding, motor, communication, and other delays that may arise.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

How to Improve a Toddler's Balance & Vestibular Processing Skills During Play |

Typically developing toddlers like to defy gravity whether it be spinning around in Daddy's arms, swinging in the backyard, or jumping on the bed. But when a toddler has consecutive ear infections, sensory processing disorder, low muscle tone, or any other thing that impairs balance, movement may not be so fun for them.

Below is a link that gives ideas to add movement into a toddler's play routine:

How to Improve a Toddler's Balance & Vestibular Processing Skills During Play |

The vestibular system, located in the inner ear, is in charge of balancing the body every time the head moves. Muscle tone, bones (orthopedic alignment), nerves, and the eyes also have a big role in balancing too. If something is wrong with any of those body parts, then the person can have poor balance. So, if your toddler is absolutely terrified of movement in some directions no matter what you do, then he may need an occupational or physical therapy evaluation to determine the cause.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Milk Allergy Facts, Symptoms - Facts

Whether it be within my circle of friends, while at work, church, and even the grocery store, I seem to be a magnet for people asking me all about milk allergies. Since I've dealt with my daughter being allergic to milk since she was an infant (she is now 6 1/2 yrs old), I am usually able to answer the questions aimed at me. One resource I tend to give is the food allergy and anaphylaxis network:

Milk Allergy Facts, Symptoms - Facts

One thing that I have learned over time is that dairy is not just in food, but also skin care products such as lotion, shampoo, and soap. So, read ingredients on foods as well as anything that contacts the skin.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Pants on the Ground

I chose to name this entry "Pants on the Ground" not because I am a fan of this silly song that made its debute on Amercian Idol earlier this year, but because of potty training. My son has recently shown interest in potty training. He rarely produces anything, but at least he sits on the toilet for a while multiple times a day, and tells me after every bowel movement that he needs to go to the potty. So, there is a lot of work to be done in my home, but his interest has been sparked!

One thing that I have done is begun to change his diaper in the bathroom while he is standing....unless it is a messy bowel movement, and then it is back to the wooden changing table to lay down! If he is standing as I change the diaper, then he gets the opportunity to pull up and down his pants before and after. Whereas if he is being changed lying down, he doesn't get that opportunity as easily. Since he likes to watch the other family members go to the bathroom, he is now getting the message that if he is standing instead of lying down that he is just like us. The more signals we can give to toddlers that they are "big boys" and "big girls" the more we are letting them know not to act like babies. And since babies wear diapers and big kids don't, merely changing the tot's diaper standing up and having them help participate in the process is one step toward successful potty training. Here is a link with some signs of readiness and suggestions for potty training:

Toilet Training-Home Treatment

Many of the kids that I work with for occupational therapy would have difficulty pulling their pants up and down whether it be because of orthopedic, visual, or neurological problems. So if this is also the case with your toddler, maybe you can have them participate in a different way. It might be helping pick out "big boy" underpants at the store or it might be choosing which of the bathrooms in the home to go to (as long as the home has 2 or more toilets!). Another thought is to adapt their ability to pull up and down their pants. More than once I have sewn loops inside the front left and right sides of young children's pants for them to have something to grasp. This is especially good for kids with limited wrist motion or strength. The sky is the limit when it comes to adapting a routine. Just keep the mindset of keeping the child actively involved in the process!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Expanding Food Choices of Toddlers

My 25 month old son used to eat "everything under the sun", but over the last three or four months he has been a bit pickier about his food choices. At times, he refuses foods he typically likes. Unfortunately, this is part of being a toddler and exerting his independence. Since I know that, I still offer the food but I don't create a power struggle. If he tries to throw the food, I just tell him to keep the food on his plate. Looking at it on his plate reminds him that the food still exists. Typically, he will eat that food a different time, so at least he still eats it sometimes. Now, if I weren't an occupational therapist who works with toddlers I might approach the situation differently, especially since I came from a home where we were told to eat everything on the plate or we couldn't get dessert and/or couldn't get up from the table until the plate was clean!

One thing that seems to work on introducing new foods to my son is having him sit at the table next to his older sister and watch her eat. Thank goodness she isn't a picky eater! Until this week, my son wouldn't eat green beans (BTW I don't like them either). But my daughter LOVES them, so I cook them at least a once every 7-10 days. Over the last couple of months, he went from saying "no beans" to allowing them to sit on his plate without saying anything; then he progressed to touching them and bringing them to his lips. Well, on Monday night I cooked green beans and he ate two of them willingly as he watched his sister eat them...yeah! Then, the next evening I heated up some left overs and not only did he eat the 5 beans I gave him, he asked for more of them without being prompted...yeah, again!

I think toddlers learn from older children whether it be a sibling, cousin, neighbor, or another child at a babysitter's home or a daycare. So consider pairing up the picky toddler with the not-so-picky eater who is older during snacks and meals. Even if it doesn't help right away, the child is looking at the food. Research shows that parents and caregivers give up to easily on getting a child to eat a particular food, and that on average it takes 10-15 presenations of that food before the child will like it. Now, if you force the child to eat it, I can almost guarantee it will take even longer! Toddlers like things to be their idea not yours, and repeated offerings of a particular food increases the chance that one day that toddler will choose to eat it. I do think there comes a point where you may have to conclude that the child just doesn't like that food for whatever reason: color, smell, shape, taste, texture, etc. After all, I don't like every food on the planet either!

Other ideas to expand the food choices of toddlers include:

- Don't get in the rut of fixing the same meals over and over. Not that it isn't okay to repeat some of the same meals, but introduce new foods as often as possible. This may take planning ahead so that you have new foods in the pantry and refrigerator. Even mixing meals up helps somewhat, for example: sometimes corn is served with chicken and carrots, and other times it is served with turkey and rice. This helps reduce the rigidity that some toddlers tend to exhibit.

- When offering new foods, try a food that is similar to a food the child already likes. For example, if the child loves Gala apples, then try different types of apples such as Macintosh, Fuji, and Golden Delicious. Also, pears have a similar taste to apples too. Another example might include that if the child likes plain apple sauce, then try cinnamon apple sauce or peach apple sauce; the taste may differ slightly but the texture will be the same.

- Be creative and fun with snacks and meals. Using cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into child-friendly shapes worked like a charm for getting my daughter to eat a turkey sandwich for the first time back when she was a toddler. After doing this for 4-5 times I just presented her with a plain sandwich, no special shapes, and she ate it just as quickly as if it had been in the shape of a heart. Other ideas might include drawing smiley faces out of ketchup onto a piece of meat and putting food onto a plate with the child's favorite character on it.

-Make sure every meal has at least one food that the child likes and don't force him to eat the others, just encourage it. At the very least, the child needs to look at it and smell it. Now, if the the child has an autism spectrum disorder or sensory processing disorder, then just being in the same room as that smell may be all they can handle at first, but the ultimate goal is getting that food on the child's plate so that one day he may actually eat it and like it.

- Have the child help cook the meal. When I make home-made pizza both of my kids help. My son obviously can't help as much, but he rolls out the dough with the rolling pin whereas my daughter can spread the sauce. I leave the oven light on as it is cooking for them to peek at here and there, and both kids are super excited about eating the meal by the time it comes out of the oven.

-Encourage the child to eat healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables as opposed to fried fast food. This means be a living example, because "monkey see, monkey do"; so if the rest of the family eats junk food and is picky with vegetables, then the toddler won't be any different unless the other familly members change their habits. This lifestyle also sets the child up to be at risk for obesity and diabetes. Type 2 diabetes in children is on the rise, and it could be prevented by healthier lifestyle and food choices; on the other hand, type 1 diabetes is acquired in childhood (usually) and isn't due to being over-weight.

- If your child has feeding difficulties due to sensory or motor problems, then consult with an occupational therapist or speech pathologist who specializes in feeding. Not all therapists are experts in feeding, so shop around until you find a good fit!

- Read the book "Food Chaining" which is written by feeding specialists and gives great ideas on how to introduce new foods slowly. If the child is just a picky eater with no oral aversions or oral-motor problems, then suggestions from this book alone may help. If there is something more going on, then direct therapy intervention should be considered.

Wow, all of this talk about eating has made me hungry for a to go!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fidget Toys

My family and I just returned from a week long vacation (3 hours ago to be specific). The one thing that helped my husband and I survive the 9 hour drive each way with two young kids was bags of toys, including fidget toys. I had a large bag of toys for each child to sort through and play with. So when my son got tired of playing with his cars, magna-doodle, and puzzle, the fidget toys were his next choice. He especially liked the stretchy, light up caterpillar fidget. On one of the "pit stops" I purchased a visual fidget; it is a 5 inch ball with a small fish and glitter inside it.

The term fidget basically just describes what a person would do with that toy...fidget. Fidgets are fun to turn around, pull, squeeze, shake, etc. Some children can benefit from them in the classroom to help them "wiggle" with their hands instead of getting out of their chair. For some kids, they have to be moving in order to listen or they zone out, so a fidget allows them to still be moving, just it is with their hands instead of their entire body. Fidgets are also beneficial for long car rides or waiting in doctor's office lobbies. When the child is playing with it, it keeps their mind off having to keep their body still. Some fidgets are textured which stimulates the tactile sense, whereas others are aiming at the visual, auditory, oral, or proprioceptive sensory systems. But you have to be careful with the auditory fidgets depending upon where you will use it, because you wouldn't want it to be too loud! Although fidgets are beneficial for many children, they are especially helpful for kids with sensory processing disorder (SPD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and ADD/ADHD.

Some things I had for my 2 year old son in his fidget bag for our long car ride included: small cars, fuzzy ball, stretchy caterpillar, zip up bag full of various action figures, wind-up fish, mini See-n-Say, aquarium tubing (for chewing), and other odds-and-ends that were too large for him to swallow had he decided to put them in his mouth. I'm not going to falsely say that for the entire 9 hours my son forgot he was strapped into his car seat against his will and was as happy as a lark, but I will say when he fussed, having toys as a distraction helped immensely! Now for my six year old daughter, she enjoyed her bag of toys also, but she has always been a champion traveler and wouldn't fuss even if she had nothing to do at all. But the fidgets made it more fun for her!

Still not sure what to use with your little one? Here is a link I found for some fidget toys that might stimulate some thought:

Toys for Learners: Trainers Warehouse Product Departments

I have also seen some great fidget toys at Walgreen's, Wal-Mart, and other retail stores. The dollar stores sometimes have good fidgets- just have to dig! Try to get a variety of fidget toys, because what works at one moment may not at the next, so it is nice to have quite a few in your bag of toys. I even save party favors from birthday parties my children have attended and toss them into the bag of toys. You might even want to go through your children's toy boxes to find fidget treasures. Another thing that makes good fidgets is the toys that come with a child's meal from a fast food restaurant as well as the prizes from cereal boxes. One of my favorite fidgets came from McDonald's over 4 years ago; in fact, I would go through the drive through to buy more kid's meals just for more of this toy; it was one of those intriguing toys that helps visual and fine-motor skills. By the way, I rarely eat fast food!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Toothbrushing Tips

Just the word "toothbrush" can raise levels of anxiety in some parents. Especially the ones who feel as if they either have to force toothbrushing on their kids or just go without doing it. Kids with oral aversions, sensory processing disorder (SPD), and autism especially have a difficult time with teethbrushing. Add the toddler stage to those diagnoses and the resistance to the routine is even stronger!

I know that when my own two kids have had a long, over-whelming day the toothbrushing routine (as well as bathing and sleeping) doesn't run smoothly for us either! Here are some tips from Marsha Dunn Klein on the Meal Time Notions website to make it run more smoothly:

I think that when this routine finally starts to go smoother, it opens up the door to try other strategies with other routines such as dressing, bathing, and meal time. If these tips don't help, ask your occupational therapist for some home strategies. If your child doesn't have occupational therapy, maybe it is time for an evaluation!