Things We Love #5 Life with Greyson + Parker

One of the fantastic things about the internet is being able to find people in your ‘tribe’.  As a Speech and Language Therapist, I enjoy being able to hear from Parents who are going through similar things to the families I work with.

It is reassuring too, when you can see families implementing ideas like the ones we suggest in therapy all the time, and seeing them working, and celebrating their successes with them.

Chrissy is Mum to Greyson and Parker, two boys on the autism spectrum.  She talks about, and posts videos of, a lot of their Speech Therapy sessions.  She also is a powerful advocate for their use of their AAC (alternative and augmentative communication) devices, and shares videos of the family modelling.

Chrissy also posts about family life and lots of other things.  Following this page is a life-affirming experience.

If you’ve got a page, website, book, blog or resource you’d like to share, please do so in the comments.  They might make it into a future blog post, too!

The Tactile System and your child’s behaviour- Undersensitivity

Continuing our series of posts on the tactile system….

In our last post we talked about how an over-sensitivity to touch might show up in your child’s behaviour.  This time, we are looking at signs that may indicate that your child is under-sensitive (hyposensitive) to touch.

A difficulty in sensory processing may be apparent in a child’s motor skills, and/or in their emotional and behavioural responses.  There are many areas in which tactile difficulties might show up.  Because my posts are more feeding-oriented in origin, I’ll focus a little more on signs you might see in that area.  Sensory processing is very complicated, so no one post or list will ever quite capture your child.  That is why a good quality assessment of sensory processing is important.  As we’ve discussed previously, a child with a general pattern of under-sensitivity may react passively (not acting to address their needs), or actively (seeking out sensation to meet their needs).

Under-sensitivity:

  • Poor awareness of food in the mouth- poor oral skills, poor chewing skills, gagging (there are lots of physical reasons why children might show these too)
  • Cramming food into their mouth
  • May enjoy very highly flavoured foods, or tend to like highly textured food (like crunchy things)
  • Unaware of food on their face or left in their mouth
  • May drool with little awareness
  • Poor awareness of being dirty
  • Low pain awareness
  • Seems unaware of temperature
  • May seek out tactile experiences- e.g. rubbing their face against the carpet, mouthing excessively
  • May have a poor sense of personal space
  • May eat non-food items

If your child is showing these signs, they might benefit from working with a Speech and Language Therapist with the appropriate sensory training, and/or an appropriately trained Occupational Therapist.

Coming up- Look out for posts on practical ideas to support your child who is under- or over- sensitive to touch.

Posts from Find the Key Speech Therapy are intended for information.  They are not inetnded to, and cannot, take the place of advice from an appropriately qualified Speech and Language Therapist who knows your child.  Find the Key Speech Therapy does not take responsibility for the use of any advice without appropriate professional guidance. 

Things your Speech Therapist wants you to know #2 It’s OK to cry in sessions (AKA We are aware you have emotions)

Working in the areas of Complex Needs and Feeding has been an emotional education for me.  Until you work with people who are needing to recalibrate their lives in the face of overwhelming circumstance, whilst learning how to apply the advice of several different degree-level specialists, some of whom disagree with each other, you don’t have a clue, really.

I consider it part of a Therapist’s skill set to sit with you through these times in your life.  Not a skill set we are altogether prepared for in our training, it seems to me, but then perhaps no-one can prepare you.

Please know that I do not expect you to use any shred of your precious emotional and physical energy to suppress your feelings during our sessions.  Crying is OK.  Feeling overwhelmed is OK.  Feeling angry is OK.  It’s all OK.

Sometimes I find in feeding therapy that we don’t seem to be able to make progress towards our goals.  I sometimes find later that my advice has pushed on an emotional button that a Parent wasn’t ready for me to press, and so they haven’t been able to implement what I’ve suggested.   That’s Ok!

The feeding therapy relationship can be an intense one.  It’s important to give yourself the emotional space to adjust to the new challenges that you and your family face.

My therapy appointments have that space in them, if you want it.

Posts from ‘Find the Key Speech Therapy’ are intended for information.  They are not intended to, and cannot, take the place of advice from an appropriately qualified Speech and Language Therapist who knows  your child.  ‘Find the Key Speech Therapy’ does not take responsibility for the use of any advice without appropriate professional guidance,

 

The Tactile System and Your Child’s Behaviour- Oversensitivity

So, in my last post I explained a little about how the tactile system is structured.

How do differences in the way your child processes touch sensation show up in their behaviour?

Your child’s sensory processing tendency may be towards over-sensitivity to touch (also called hyper-sensitivity), or towards under-sensitivity (hypo-sensitivity).  This post is about hypersensitivity.  A difficulty in sensory processing may be apparent in a child’s motor skills, and/or in their emotional and behavioural responses.  There are many areas in which tactile difficulties might show up.  Because my posts are more feeding-oriented in origin, I’ll focus a little more on signs you might see in that area, this list is in no way exhaustive.

Over-sensitivity:

  • May eat a restricted diet, and especially restrictive with regards to food texture.  Often ‘stuck’ on smooth foods.  Especially finds lumpy textures difficult.
  • Dislikes having their hands messy.  If they will get their hands messy, may ask to have their hands wiped quickly or frequently.
  • If they will join in with messy play, may only use the very tips of their fingers to explore.
  • May not mouth toys.
  • May be distracted by the visual appearance of foods- focussed on packaging, eating only particular brands, rejecting foods if they are presented differently, rejecting foods if sauce has touched them, or if foods have touched each other on the plate.
  • May be distracted by, or controlling about clothing textures- e.g. labels, long sleeves, seams.
  • May dislike having their shoes and socks off, or exploring with their feet, e.g. walking on sand or grass
  • May dislike having hands/face/hair/teeth brushed/washed etc.
  • May reject foods based on temperature
  • May react excessively to everyday events like being brushed up against
  • May exhibit responses to the above that you would consider out of all proportion- distress, anxiety, anger, silliness, controlling behaviour
  • May have poor fine motor, oral-motor and/or gross motor skills
  • Fearful or rejecting of being touched/hugged

If your child is showing these signs, they might benefit from working with a Speech and Language Therapist with the appropriate sensory training, and/or an appropriately trained Occupational Therapist.

Look out for posts about supporting children with over-sensitive tactile systems with their feeding, coming up soon.

Posts from Find the Key Speech Therapy are intended for information.  They are not inetnded to, and cannot, take the place of advice from an appropriately qualified Speech and Language Therapist who knows your child.  Find the Key Speech Therapy does not take responsibility for the use of any advice without appropriate professional guidance. 

 

Things Your Speech Therapist Wants You To Know #1 This is What Progress Looks Like

So many of the lessons I have learned working in the area of complex needs, communication and feeding therapy, are life lessons really.

What a privilege and an education, that a family lets you learn these lessons with them and from them, and then in time, that you get to model these lessons to someone else’s family.

Making progress with your child’s communication and feeding can be hard.  Your child starts to lick a new food, and then they get a cold, and they stop. You were just getting going with that communication board, and then your child was admitted to hospital for a month, and now you don’t even remember where you put that communication board.

The human brain is really good at experiencing events, and then making a story out of them that links them all together.  We all love a good story.  So the human brain has a habit of viewing progress as a neat linear process.

It can be tempting to conclude that you are doing something wrong when your child’s progress doesn’t look like this.  But in reality, all progress is made of tiny steps forward, the odd step backward and the occasional topple from the path altogether.  Nobody’s progress has ever looked like a nice straight line, ever.

Don’t get caught up too much in the story your brain is telling you about the progress being made, or you will be trapped in an exhausting cycle of elation and crisis as you interpret whatever your child did today as the whole story.  This is especially true when you are tired and stressed.

Keep your eye on the big picture- what is your goal?   Understand the steps you need to take to get there, and just do them, as consistently as you can manage.  Don’t beat yourself up about the day you didn’t get the therapy work done, just quietly refocus on the goal and start your baby steps again.

On a day-to-day basis, it can feel like you’re not getting anywhere, but when you look back, you will see how much progress you can make this way.

Like all things that are true, this probably sounds irritatingly trite and positive-thinky. But I hope it comforts you that you are not in charge of the big picture, just the little bit of time right in front of you.  As a Therapist, I know that time and consistency will take care of the rest.

Image by Iain Welch Art and Design

Posts from Find the Key Speech Therapy are intended for information.  They are not intended to, and cannot take the place of advice from an appropriately qualified Speech and Language therapist who knows your child.  Find the Key Speech Therapy does not take responsibility for the use of any advice without appropriate professional guidance. 

 

The Touch Processing System

This article will be looking at the touch processing system in a bit of detail.  If you’re anything like me, you like to know why something works before you’ll do it.  So this introduction to the touch system will give the background to future articles that will talk a bit more about practical strategies to support your child with difficulties with touch (tactile) processing.

I think that knowing a bit about how the brain processes touch helps Families to be more independent of their Professionals in choosing the right strategies for them.  With the right knowledge, you’ll understand why a strategy might work, and how to adapt it.

Your tactile system has receptors that take in touch information through the skin.  It’s the largest sensory system in the body, and so if you have difficulty with processing touch, it has the potential to effect lots of different areas of development.  I’m going to mainly talk about children who have emotional over-reactions to touch (and therefore food too).

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The touch system has two branches, the discriminative and the protective parts.

The discriminative system helps us with precision information.  We need it to explore our food and toys, and develop good manipulation skills with our hands for things like writing, turning the pages of a book, or doing a puzzle.

kids-girl-pencil-drawing-159823

The discriminative system carries a few different types of information, that you might not think of as being part of the touch system:

  • Discriminative info like texture
  • Deep touch pressure
  • Vibration
  • Proprioception (more about this in another post)

The protective system is designed to keep us safe on a much more basic level.  It is the system that will make you jump when an insect lands on you, make you shiver when there is a sudden cold draught, or think about running away if someone brushes against you in a dark alley.

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The protective system carries information about a few things too:

  • Light touch
  • Pain
  • Temperature

The protective system, unlike the discriminative system, sends branches out to the parts of the brain that make us switch focus and be alert, and react by running away, putting up a fight, or freezing.  All useful things in the right situation.

But sometimes children (and adults) have an overactive protective system, and/or an underactive discriminative system.  So they are triggering strong protective behaviours in response to touch sensations that would not bother the rest of us.  For example, getting food onto their hands or into their mouth can trigger genuine fear and anxiety.  Eating foods of a certain temperature might be an issue.

Luckily for us, our brain isn’t very good at processing information from both parts of the tactile system at the same time.  If you want to see this in action, then next time you bang a knee (generating a pain signal, processed in the protective system), then rub it (deep pressure, processed in the discriminative system), and it won’t hurt so much.

We can use this trick of fate in therapy activities and strategies for your child by:

  • Supporting their discriminative skills in our choice of activity
  • Using deep touch pressure such as massage
  • Using toys that vibrate (but not if they only have light vibration or the brain thinks it is light touch)
  • Doing activities that get us moving our muscles (proprioception)

So, we might build more opportunities to use the discriminative pathway into a child’s day, and especially before we ask them to push themselves to do something difficult in their feeding, like messy play.

Have you got any examples of touch activities that your child finds difficult?  Maybe they make more sense now that you know more about the way the brain processes touch?  As usual, post your comments and questions!

Posts from Find the Key Speech Therapy are intended for information.  They are not intended to, and cannot take the place of advice from an appropriately qualified Speech and Language Therapist who knows your child.  Find the Key Speech Therapy does not take responsibility for the use of any advice without appropriate professional guidance. 

Things We Love #4 ‘We Speak PODD’

Today I am wandering away from feeding to talk about communication (yes, I do work on that too!).  This week’s ‘Thing We Love’, or more accurately, ‘People We Love’ is the Facebook page and Youtube Channel, ‘We Speak PODD’.

For anyone unfamiliar, PODD (Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display), is an AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) system, an alternative means of supporting people to communicate.  There are lots of AAC systems, and I’ll get round to some posts on those at some point!  But you don’t need to know anything about AAC, or to have a child who needs it, to benefit from getting to know ‘We Speak PODD’ better.

The Owens Family have taken the PODD system into their lives and hearts, because, fundamentally, they believe that their children have a right to their say.  They recognise that communication is key to independence and asserting yourself.

Karen Owen is passionate about the messy business of real-life communication.  This AAC system goes everywhere, communication happens when it’s inconvenient, it happens when the things that need to be talked about are difficult (death) or when they might be considered frivolous (hair styles).

We Speak PODD videos show the family using the system when they have ‘done it wrong’, when the children are grumpy, when the Parents are tired and sweaty.  All of it.  Because communication happens all the time.

We Speak PODD will gladden the heart of every Speech Therapist and anyone who lives or works with children who have communication challenges.  And if you’re visiting this page, you can leave your excuses at the door…..

“I’ve said this a million times but it’s worth repeating a million more: communication happens everywhere.

It simply never stops.  My kids must always have access to their voice.

….

Guys, if you are looking for easy then you have come to the wrong place.

If you’re looking for convenience, go ahead and click unlike….

Every human has something to give- every individual can make a meaningful contribution to society and it is our job to enable kids from a young age to find their power and their voice.

It’s not easy.  It’s not convenient.  But it’s worth it.”

Karen Owens, We Speak PODD

I couldn’t say it any better.

If you know any inspirational pages you want this page to share, or any fantastic resources you want some help to spread the word about, comment on the Facebook page and let ‘Find the Key’ help you to spread the word.