Monday, October 11, 2010

Focus Through Movement

Hello, my name is Bridgette Anderson. I am director of therapy at Developmental Therapy Center, a sensory integration clinic in San Diego. I have been working with children with special needs in school and clinic settings for over 12 years. Helping parents figure out how to help their child is one of my passions. I was excited when Achievement Products for Special Needs asked me to write posts for the Achievement Products for Special Needs blog to help parents find ways to help their children and to share my ideas with other professionals as well. Although I am compensated by Achievement Products for Special Needs for my posts, the thoughts and opinions are entirely mine.

As we all know, fall is a busy and stressful time with parents trying to figure out how to help their children adjust to the new demands school places on them. There are so many adjustments for children to make, whether it is returning to school after an active summer or a first school experience. Children of all ages are immediately expected to sit for longer periods of time, to concentrate and to work in environments which are much more dynamic than the peace and quite of a bedroom or study at home. Don’t get me wrong, I believe all of these are important skills for a child to learn, but frequently parents ask me, “What can we do to help?”

There are a number of suggestions that can help support a child through a school day. It is important to work with the teacher to be sure they understand how you are trying to help. I have found that most teachers are more than willing to add supports into a class to help children. In fact, frequently they are able to have others benefit from the supports as well. Without knowing an individual child, I can never make specific suggestions, but here are some simple ideas that it won’t hurt to try and that I’ve found have a pretty good success rate. All of the sensory tools I refer to can be found through Achievement Products for Special Needs. Remember, these are supports to help a child get through the day. If things get more and more difficult, I suggest you seek out more professional help specifically for your child.

For the child who has difficulty sitting still in class:

One tool for children who just can’t stop moving is to have them sit on something that allows the body to move and but does not disrupt the class (for many children this moving allows the brain to focus on what is being said). Here’s a simple way to test this idea: put a puff of air in a beach ball and have the child sit on it to see if it helps him pay attention better while sitting. If there is some success, but the ball is too mobile and tends to disrupt the class, then a “sit disk”, “posture wedge” or air cushion will provide the child with the ability to move his body enough to concentrate without disrupting others.

A different type of seating that is more effective for some children is a therapy ball (a large-diameter ball) which bends with the movement of your body --like a large yoga ball. In order to normalize this solution more for the classroom environment, provide the classroom with a therapy ball chair. The chair eliminates the possibility of too much rolling of the ball or of the child falling off the ball, and it provides some back support.

Another tip for helping a child who can’t sit still in class is to allow the child to use a “fidgit” like Finger Fidgets - Set of 10, basically a toy they can hold in their hand(s). As with all supports, it is important to set classroom rules for when and how the child may use a fidgit. It’s amazing how much it can support a child and allow her brain to focus on the academics while the fidgit is giving her body the information it needs. Fidgits can also be passed around the classroom or shared.

When selecting a fidgit, think about these questions: (1) what activities will allow my child to get in some movement (even if just with his hands); (2) can this movement be achieved without disrupting the class or creating too much of a distraction; (3) what type of textures and movements will work best for my child? For example, if squeezing and tactile stimulation is an activity that seems to promote calming for your child, you may prefer balls such as the Magic Gertie Balls - Set of 2 or Sea Creature Anemones. Other children will prefer a movement of the fingers or hands. This can be accomplished with an Super Mondo Inside Out Ball. Still, other children will prefer a touch or rubbing movement, with supports such as the Small Tactile Pillow or a Vinyl Porcupine Ball. Finally, there are the children who need objects that cannot be tossed, shared, or noticed. For these children I recommend various items which can be attached to a pencil or pen. Pencil grips--used to support the child with handwriting--can be placed towards the top of the pencil, and pencil weights can be moved up and down a pencil. Both provide the child with an opportunity to fidget in a much more inconspicuous manner.

Hopefully one or many of these suggestions are helpful for you, or you might find other items or ideas in the Achievement Products for Special Needs website or catalog. Work with the teacher as a team to support your child through a successful transition to the school environment, and to provide an increased ability for your child to concentrate on learning rather than on the effort to keep his body still. Remember movement is a child’s friend, so always provide lots of opportunities before and after school for children to get motor activity. This will help support their ability to focus in class as well as their general good health.