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How to Make and Use a Visual Reward Board

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Written By:  Elizabeth McMahon, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Visual boards are a great way to help children learn and complete targeted activities.  Sometimes, children may need to have a visual board as a reward system.  For example, in the picture above, the child has to earn 3 stars in order to play bubbles.  The way they earn the stars can vary and is up to the adult.  It could be completing specific activities, following directions, etc.   Here are some easy ways to make and use a visual reward board.

  1. Laminate a piece of construction paper or cardstock.  I like to use cardstock because it’s a little sturdier and doesn’t bend as easily.   You can find a basic laminator at any craft store.  I found one at Costco and it works really well.
  2. Place a line of Velcro on the laminated cardstock.   This is your visual board.
  3. Find pictures to use as the reinforcing object.  This is something that your child will work for.  What do they like?  What’s their favorite toy, food or activity?  You can find pictures online or take a picture of the object with your camera.  If your child is working with a speech pathologist, they may have the computer program called Boardmaker and can print some pictures for you.
  4. Laminate the pictures and add Velcro to the back.
  5. Introduce the visual reward board to your child.
    • Provide your child a few objects and find out which one is motivating to them.  Then, place that picture at the end of the board (e.g. bubbles).
    • Tell your child they have to earn 3 stars to get that object.
    • Tell your child how they can earn the stars (e.g.  “write your name on your paper, follow directions, put the puzzle piece on the puzzle, etc”).
    • After they complete the task, give them a star picture and have them place it on the visual board.  You may need to do hand-over-hand assistance the first few times to show your child where to place the star picture.
    • After your child adds the 3 stars, immediately give them the desired object and let them play with it for a few minutes.

The visual reward board can be used throughout the day at home, during therapy sessions and in the classroom.  You will need to change the desired object in order to have something motivating for your child.

Now It’s Your Turn:  Have you used a visual reward board with your child?  How did it go?

5 Tips for Playtime

Play

 

As adults, we sometimes forget what it was like to be a kid.  It’s important to spend time playing with your child.  Some of us may need some guidance in how to “play.”  Here are 5 tips for playtime with your child:

1.  Be silly.  Don’t be afraid to make funny faces or act goofy.  Your child will love it and you’ll probably hear some laughs and giggles.

2.  Follow their lead.  Most children will make choices and show you what they want to play.  If they want to play cars, play cars.  If they want to play blocks, start building a tower.  Following their lead will show them that you care about them and their interests.

3.  Get down on their level.  If you are physically able to, sit on the floor with your child.  If you can’t get on the floor, then adapt your play to the table or couch. Children will play everywhere and anywhere, but it’s important to be able to be on their eye level and be truly engaged with them.

4.  Talk about what you and your child are doing.  While playing, there is a lot of language stimulation happening.  Don’t forget to talk and use language while playing.  Each toy and activity has its own vocabulary words.  For example, think about how many words are used while playing blocks.  Words like “on top, block, fall down, uh-oh, so big, big tower, big block, little block, etc.”  You are using a lot descriptive words and building your child’s language skills.

5.  Take turns.  It’s important for kids to play with others.  This builds social skills and peer interactions.  While playing, use words like “my turn, your turn” and “may I play?” to assist your child when they play with others.

Take some time to play with your child.  You both will benefit from playing together.  They will learn so much from you.  You will not only learn about what a cool kid you have, but you will be reinforcing and establishing a positive relationship with them – one they’ll remember well beyond their childhood years. Oh – and don’t forget to have fun!

Now It’s Your Turn:  What’s your favorite game or toy to play with your child?

Spread the Word to End the Word

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Written By:  Elizabeth McMahon, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

In February 2009, the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign was created by the Special Olympics and Best Buddies.  This campaign has been influential in using people first language and to show others how hurtful the “r-word” is to those with special needs.  March 6, 2013 is the annual day of awareness and there are special events going on all over the country.  Please check with organizations in your community for more information.  In Memphis, Best Buddies and DSAM will be at the Old Navy at Wolfchase to spread awareness and encourage people to sign the pledge banner.

In October 2010, Rosa’s Law removed the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” from federal health, education and labor policies and replaces them with people first language such as “individuals with an intellectual disability.”  This law is a significant milestone to promote people first language and acceptance for all people with intellectual disabilities.  Since then, several states have also updated their policies and have implemented positive, people first language.

Using positive language is important.  The way we talk and the words we choose say a lot about what we think and value.  As a society, we must move forward with our thinking and views of those with special needs. We must pledge to be advocates for the acceptance and equal rights for everyone.  We must work towards creating an environment with positive language, an environment of love and acceptance for everyone.  Take the pledge with me.  Spread the word to end the word in order to show inclusion, respect, unity, dignity, acceptance, friendship and unconditional love.

How to Make and Use a “First and Then” Visual Board

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Written By:  Elizabeth McMahon, MA, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Visual boards are a great way to help children learn and complete targeted activities.  Sometimes, children may need to have a visual board to help them understand “first we do this” and “then we do that.”  For example, in the picture above, “first we string beads” and “then we play ball.”   There are some apps available that work on visual boards, but I find that children have responded better to using objects and picture cards that are more concrete and hands-on.  Here are some easy ways to make and use a “first and then” visual board.

  1. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper or cardstock.  Then, laminate it.  I like to use cardstock because it’s a little sturdier and doesn’t bend as easily.   You can find a basic laminator at any craft store.  I found one at Costco and it works really well.  If you don’t have a laminator, you could use contact paper.  Contact paper can be found at stores like Wal-Mart or Target and is usually in the kitchen liner section.
  2. Place a square of Velcro on each side of the line on the laminated cardstock.   This is your visual board.
  3. Find pictures to use as the activity you are requiring them to complete and then those you are using as a reinforcing object.  This is something that your child will work for.  What do they like?  What’s their favorite toy, food or activity?  You can find pictures online or take a picture of the object with your camera.  If your child is working with a speech pathologist, they may have the computer program called Boardmaker and can print some pictures for you.
  4. Laminate the pictures and add Velcro to the back.
  5. Introduce the “first and then” board to your child.
    • Provide your child a few objects and find out which one is motivating to them.  Then, place that picture on the right hand side of the board (e.g. ball).
    • Place a picture of the targeted activity on the left hand side of the board (e.g. stringing beads).
    • Tell your child “first we string beads and then we play ball.”  Show them the visual board and point to each picture as you give this instruction.
    • Provide the activity on the left (e.g. stringing beads).
    • Once this activity is completed, tell them, “all done stringing beads” and have your child take the picture off the board.
    • Then say, “now it’s time for ball” and immediately give them the desired object and let them play with it for a few minutes.

The “first and then” visual board can be used throughout the day at home, during therapy sessions and in the classroom.  You will need to change the desired object in order to have something motivating for your child.

Now It’s Your Turn:  Have you used a “first and then” visual board with your child?  How did it go?

 

Do’s and Don’ts for Protecting Your Child’s Joints

Joints

Written By:  Hannah Taylor, DPT
Brightsong, LLC Physical Therapist

Joint protection is important for children in order to prevent damage to their growing bones.  A joint is defined as the point where 2 bones are attached in order to permit body parts to move.  So, joints include the elbow, wrist, etc.   Here are some tips to protect your child’s joints.

ARMS:

  • Don’t pull on your child’s arms when assisting them from lying flat on their back to sitting.
  • Don’t swing your child by his or her arms, this can cause shoulder or elbow dislocation.
  • Do use proper hand placement to assist your child to sitting from lying flat or side lying (i.e. place hands behind head, back or on hips).
  • Do hold your child at their waist or trunk when lifting them up from surface or ground.

LEGS

  • Don’t allow “W” sitting (i.e. when child sits on floor and knees are bent and out to either side of body).  “W” sitting places increased pressure and stretching on hips, knees and ankles.
  • Don’t pull on their legs, knees or ankles aggressively during dressing or play to prevent hip or knee dislocation.
  • Do provide good support of ankles and feet with proper shoe wear.
  • Do encourage proper sitting habits and posture.
  • Do monitor your child’s hips, knees and ankles in standing.  Are their knees hyperextended? Do their legs rotate in or out?
  • Do call your doctor if your child complains of pain in joints.

NECK & BACK

  • Don’t allow your child to participate in high impact sports activities or intense jumping without asking their doctor. This is especially true for children with Down syndrome – they are at risk for increased laxity in neck and vertebrae.
  • Do provide proper seating positions for your child. Make sure that chair is appropriate height for child; if needed place small stool or stack of books under child’s feet for proper support.

With proper care, we can help ensure that your child’s joints are protected in order to promote good growth and development. If your child complains about joint pain or if you have concerns about their posture, gait, balance or coordination – please talk to your child’s pediatrician.  They might need to see a physical therapist for an evaluation.

5 Ways to Help Make a Trip to the Dentist a Positive Experience

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Photo Courtesy:  ClipArt

A trip to the dentist can be an uncomfortable experience for many people.  For children, a visit to the dentist can be scary.  Here are 5 ways you can make a trip to the dentist a positive experience in order to establish good oral health habits.

1.  Find a dentist with pediatric experience.  Working with adults is not the same as working with children and working with children with special needs can be different than working with other children.  Ask your pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric dentist.  Or, if you have a local parent group or play group, ask other families for recommendations.  Some dentists have extra credentials and training for working with children with anxiety or behavioral needs.  Do your research and find someone recommended by other families and professionals.

2.  Ask for a tour and a “meet and greet” before your child’s first appointment.  Some dental offices will give you and your child a tour of the office before your child’s first visit.  During the tour, ask if your child can see the room, sit in the chair, look at the instruments, meet the dentist, etc.  Taking a tour of the office and meeting the dental office staff before their first appointment may help ease your child’s anxiety.

3.  Schedule your child’s appointment when they’re not busy.   Many children have difficulty waiting.  Schedule your child’s appointment during a slow time at the office in order to decrease the amount of time your child has to wait.

4.  Complete the paperwork and provide information to the dental staff before the first visit.  Be prepared to share information about your child’s medical history, , special needs and/or behavior or sensory issues.  Discuss any problems with chewing, gum or tooth pain, toothbrushing, etc.  Also, provide information about your child’s diet, allergies and medications.

5.  Praise and use positive reinforcement with your child.  Ask the dental staff if your child can bring a comfort item with them during the appointment.  A lovey, blanket, toy or favorite music may help keep them calm and decrease their anxiety during the visit.  After the appointment, praise your child for how well they did and offer reinforcers as needed.  Some children may benefit from a “first and then” visual board.

It’s important to establish good oral health habits early in life.  Depending on your child’s specific medical needs, there may be additional dental visits and procedures.  For more information about working with your child’s dentist, please check out the Oral Health for Families with Special Needs Booklet.

Why We Love Puzzles

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I just found out that today is National Puzzle Day.  Who knew?   Puzzles are fabulous toys for every child.  Be sure to look for puzzles made of good quality and try to find some with pictures that look as realistic as possible.  There are a lot of developmental skills you can work on while playing with puzzles.

1.  Fine Motor Skills – Getting those puzzle pieces to fit exactly right takes a lot of concentration and fine motor skills.  Holding the little knobs (if there is one) is a great way to work on using a pincer grasp.  Bigger knobs work on holding objects with your palm and whole hand.  Some puzzles are inset puzzles, others are interlocking puzzles.  There are puzzles with fun textures and some with locks, latches and doors.  All of these require different fine motor skills and strategies.

2.  Visual Processing – Looking at the puzzle pieces and trying to figure out how to make them fit takes a lot of hand-eye coordination and visual processing skills.

3.  Cognitive Skills – Puzzles are great to work on matching pictures and following directions.  You can also work on identifying, matching and naming colors, shapes, numbers and letters.

4.  Speech and Language Skills –  Not only are puzzles great to work on naming pictures, but you can also encourage your child to request objects.  Hold the puzzle pieces in your lap and encourage your child to request which piece they want by signing or saying, “more.”  For older children, you can work on using the phrase, “I want + object name”  (e.g. “I want cat, I want blue circle, etc”) to request the desired puzzle piece.  Some puzzles make sounds when you place the pieces on the board – this is a great way to encourage your child to imitate sounds and talk about what they see and hear.

5.  Gross Motor Skills – You might be wondering how puzzles can work on gross motor skills, but they can be a great for encouraging motor skills.  For younger kids, place the puzzle board on top of your couch, chair or coffee table.  Then, place the puzzle pieces on the floor.  Your child will have to bend and squat down to pick up the puzzle pieces and then place them in the correct spot.  For older kids, place the puzzle pieces across the room.  Encourage your child to walk, run, hop, jump, skip, crawl, etc. across the room to pick up the puzzle pieces one at a time and then bring them back.  You could even develop an obstacle course for them to go through to bring back the pieces.  These activities are great for encouraging gross motor movements and motor planning skills.

Puzzles can be a lot of fun and they work on so many great developmental skills.  So, grab a puzzle and your child and have some fun!

 

Now It’s Your Turn:  Does your child have a favorite puzzle?  If so, tell us about it. 

 

Encouraging Pre-Handwriting Skills

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Photo courtesy of Clip-Art

While handwriting is an important skill for children to learn, they aren’t developmentally equipped to write letters with diagonals until age 5 and can develop poor habits if asked to try before they’re ready.  However, there are a few tips to encourage PRE-Handwriting skills to children under age 5:

  • Around age 3, children should be using fingertips on a pencil or crayon to color rather than a fist.  However, they may not move to just 3 fingers until age 5.  Encourage your child to use their fingers by using small, broken pieces of crayon to color or bulb crayons, like Alex brand finger crayons.
  • Begin reinforcing good habits as soon as they express interest in writing letters.  Letters are formed most efficiently from top to bottom.
  • Don’t substitute video learning games for fine motor activities like drawing and coloring – they do not build the foundational muscle control needed for writing.  And remember – no more than 2 hours of screen time a day (video, computer, TV, iPad, etc).
  • Good activities for foundational skills include mazes, dot-to-dot puzzles, tracing with color change markers and lacing.
  • You can put maze books or dot-to-dot books in a sheet protector and use dry erase markers over and over.
  • Work on recognizing letters and spelling your child’s name with magnets rather than trying to write.

Here are some fun activities to use with your kids:

Crayola Switchers
String Along Lacing Kit
Melissa and Doug Deluxe Alphabet Stamps
School Smart Dough
Squeeze Rocket
Fingerpaint
Squeezer and Tweezers
Magnetic Train Maze 
First Mazes

By:  Rebecca Thomas, MOT
Occupational Therapist

Disclosure of Material Connection: The above links are for informational purposes only. Brightsong, LLC does not receive a commission on any of the products reviewed or listed. The Brightsong team only recommends products or services we personally use and believe will add value to the families we work with. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

10 Reasons Why Reading is Important

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Reading books and stories with your child is important for their development.   There are a variety of different ways to read a book now.  You can read “real” books, board books, digital books, magazines, picture books, etc.  We don’t know what the world will look like in 5 or 10 years, but what we do know is that reading is important and that reading a “real” book is different than reading an electronic book.

Real books feel and look different.  They have texture and substance. You can feel and smell the pages.  A lot of children books have beautiful pictures to engage your child.  These books have textures and pop-up pictures that you can see and touch – which enrich the story and increase your child’s understanding and vocabulary skills.  Children learn about following directions and when and how to turn the pages.  They learn about the cover of books and “the end” of the story.   Children learn to use their imagination while hearing and reading these stories.  As they get older, children learn how to mark their favorite pages or make notes in the margin.  They learn how to take care of their books.  Children learn that snuggling up with mom and dad for story time is a great bonding experience full of love and adventure.

Digital books feel and look different.  There are a variety of devices capable of displaying digital books – smart phones, tablets, e-readers, etc.   One of the benefits of these devices is that they offer a different learning experience.  We all know that children learn in different ways.  If your child is not interested in “real” books, they might be very interested in digital books.  These devices offer a different type of visual stimulation and learning.  Children are still learning.  They’re still following directions and building their vocabulary skills and some devices even take the story to the next level.  A lot of details can be expanded on using the digital books, but it might be hard for the child to snuggle with the device and mom and dad – especially if they want to use it independently.

Regardless of the type of book you use, reading is important because it opens up a world of opportunities.  Stories are full of excitement and adventure.  These stories build on your child’s imagination and promote language development and literacy skills.  Reading to your child every day and having them see you reading are beneficial because:

  1. Children learn to love books by watching their parents read
  2. Reading aloud is fun for children
  3. Reading aloud teaches children a great deal about words and language
  4. Reading allows children to learn about and pursue their personal interests and passions
  5. Hearing stories about other children helps develop a sense of empathy
  6. Reading exposes children to a variety of cultures and places
  7. Books create connections between everyday situations (such as going to the dentist)
  8. Books encourage pretend play
  9. Reading teaches children about the world around them
  10. Reading together creates a special bond between parents and their children

So, grab a book and your child and enjoy some time together.

Now It’s Your Turn:  Do you have a preference for “real” books or digital ones?   What’s your child’s favorite book?