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There are lullabies that promise pretty horses and twinkling stars and some over-the-rainbow places where dreams-come-true. But pediatric music and speech therapy researchers have learned that lullabies may hold another promise: Better health for premature babies.

Recent analysis shows a parent who sing to preemies still receiving treatment in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can:

  • Soothe a child amid scary new sensations and hospital noises, bonding parent-to-child.
  • Regulate breathing and improve oxygen absorption for those who haven’t yet developed reflexive breathing.
  • Boost a baby’s nutritional intake, imperative for those with immature oral-facial muscles struggling to suck and swallow
Speech Therapy Pros: Preemies – All Babies – Need Your Voice 

At our FOCUS Fort Myers speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy clinic, we treat many children born prematurely, as they are at much higher risk of neurodevelopmental difficulties. The earlier we intervene the better, but encourage parents to start first. Even the simple act of talking regularly to your child from a young age  can do wonders.

For a premature baby, lullabies serve much the same purpose – but with power that extends beyond just speech and language development extending to objectively improved odds at survival for babies born at 37 weeks or earlier.

A 2013 study published in Pediatrics found that a parent’s lullabies or even just humming – gentle and rhythmic – played to the backdrop of low guitar strings reduced stress levels and promoted bonding, as evidenced by:

  • Regulated babies’ heartbeats;
  • Promoted longer, deeper periods of sleep;
  • Improved weight gain;
  • Shorter hospital stays;
  • Better long-term cognitive development and function.

Preemie Lullabies for Better Breathing

Premature birth is a key determinant of neonatal mortality, and there are many long-term adverse consequences known to exist when a child is born too soon (roughly 13 million children globally). Although advances in medicine the last two decades mean more babies are surviving, the growing concern now is on each child’s brain development.

The growth of the brain from age 0 to 2 is astonishing, with a fetus between 30 and 35 weeks typically able to hear, discriminate and respond to maternal sounds – especially when they detect a pitch and rhythm. But if they’re born that early, they’ll be extremely sensitive to excessive noise (which is why the AAP recommends keeping ambient noise below 45 db). Failure to do so can result in increased stress on the baby, in turn causing sleep disruption and even heightening the risk of cochlear damage. But even as too-loud noises are stressful, environments that are too quite can make a baby uneasy too.

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Caring Sciences revealed the best source of sound for a preterm infant is its mother’s voice – specifically, soft, soothing, rhythmic lullabies. Even when recorded (if mom isn’t able to be nearby) was shown to regulate a child’s breathing and even improve the baby’s oxygen saturation, resulting in much-needed rest and relaxation.

Preemie Lullabies for Improved Feeding 

Earlier this year, the University of California Los Angeles revealed the results among premature triplets born at 34 weeks who used a pacifier-activated “lullaby machine.” So whenever a child began to suck, the shoebox-sized device connected by a short cord, would play a recording of their parent’s lullabies – namely Bob Marley’s version of, “Three Little Birds” (appropriate, as they were triplets).

The babies sucked more contentedly, for longer and with greater force when the lullabies were played compared to when they weren’t. This helped with critical development and strengthening of oral facial muscles critical to feeding. In a wider analysis, 70 percent of study participants spent less time in the NICU when the pacifier was used.

Preemie Lullabies for Bonding

Birth is scary enough as it is. For a premature infant, every sound, sight, sensation is amplified and even painful. Bonding with caretakers is critical to all children’s growth and development, but it can be difficult when parents themselves are feeling anxiety, pain, guilt and even depression.

An analysis by GAMUT music therapy researchers focused on two case studies, explored both the physiological and emotional responses of regularly lullabies sung by parents to their premature babies in the NICU. The parents reported feeling calmer, more connected to their baby (which as any parent who’s ever tried to love on a preemie through an incubator knows, is priceless).

One commented:

“It’s something normal and natural that I can do during this very unnatural beginning to our life together.”

What’s more, this practice was associated with later improvements in cognitive development – primarily, speech and motor skills.

Ultimately, where this does not eliminate the need for Fort Myers speech therapy, it decreases the necessary duration and intensity of it.

Added the primary music therapy researcher of that study:

“Every child is born hardwired with communicative musicality.” 

So sing to your child.

Talk to your child.

And know that in so doing, you are helping them to thrive – perhaps someday seeing that place where “dreams really do come true.”

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. We also offer occupational therapy and physical therapy – a trifecta often necessitated to help children born prematurely reach their maximum potential. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Fostering Intimacy through Musical Beginnings: Exploring the Application of Communicative Musicality through the Musical Experience of Parents in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, 2016, GAMUT

More Blog Entries:

After the NICU: Preemies Excel With Early Intervention Therapy Age 0 to 5, Feb. 26, 2019, Fort Myers Speech Therapy Blog

The post Speech Therapy Talking Points: Lullabies Boost Preemie Health appeared first on Focus Therapy.

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Effective treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) involves an early intervention, intensive therapy schedule that includes Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), also known as the “gold standard” in autism treatment. In our years of offering Fort Myers ABA therapy (and the diagnostic ADOS testing for ASD), the FOCUS team is familiar with many myths and misconceptions surrounding its effectiveness.

Because a central function of our pediatric therapy services involves parent education and participation (we need all-hands-on-deck!), it’s critical that we address concerns about our Fort Myers ABA therapy services head-on. With so many conflicting information sources out there, we don’t blame parents for being confused or even hesitant. This exact phenomenon was noted as far back as a decade, with published research in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis noting the collective detrimental impact misrepresentations has on children.

But information is power. The truth is ABA has proven time and again – in clinical studies as well as within our own anecdotal experience – to be one of our most effective tools in securing long-term successful outcomes for these kids.

Here, we’re tackling some of the most common misunderstandings about ABA therapy. Still, we encourage parents and caregivers to reach out and discuss any and all concerns regarding the ABA process and their child’s progress.

What Is FOCUS Fort Myers ABA Therapy?

ABA therapy has been around for years, it’s proven effective in the course of scientific research – yet many people still don’t know exactly what it is.

The first thing to understand is there are a few different kinds of ABA therapy. All generally involve using a reward system to systematically encouraging positive behavioral changes in children. Goals include:

  • Increasing on-task behaviors and effective social interaction/ learning new skills;
  • Maintaining self-control and monitoring skills necessary to function in daily life;
  • Generalizing/transferring positive learned behaviors from one setting to another;
  • Restricting/narrowing the conditions under which interfering behaviors occur;
  • Reducing interfering behaviors that may result in self-injury or harm to others.

While some therapy sites center exclusively on behavior, we incorporate developmental and play therapy with an interdisciplinary approach that involves interactivity, communication and emotional growth too.

Although ABA is considered the standard treatment for children with autism, it’s also approved for children with Down syndrome (many of whom also have autism) and sometimes other conditions.

The program requires a physician recommendation to start (usually a pediatric behavior or neurological specialist), with the first step to that being ADOS testing to assess the child’s level of function. Once ABA is recommended and approved by insurance, it’s overseen by a physician, with the day-to-day services carried out by trained registered behavior technicians (RBTs).

Some therapy centers offer services in the form of an “autism classroom,” where several children receive services in small groups with one RBT for about 6 hours daily. This likely would not be a good fit for a school-age child with high-functioning autism who has the potential to function in a typical classroom.

The Fort Myers ABA therapy program at FOCUS involves intensive, one-on-one ratio of children to RBTs, both for younger children and those of school-age with moderate-to-severe autism (though we do encourage opportunities for peer interaction and participation). The earlier we can intervene with ABA therapy (ideally before age 4 or 5), the better the end results – and the higher the chances the child join – and excel – in a mainstream, typical classroom.

Most Common ABA Therapy Myths and Misconceptions 

Down to the misunderstandings we hear most frequently about ABA therapy:

Myth: ABA is experimental.

Fact: ABA therapy is the only one recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General that has proven through three decades of clinical research to be effective. It’s been around since the 1950s, and it’s been objectively shown to work since the 1970s.

Myth: ABA therapy places too much emphasis on food as a reward.

Fact: There are many different types of rewards, but they all depend on the child. Some are extremely food-motivated, but therapy is uniquely tailored for each individual child’s needs and best interests.

Myth: All children hear is “No.” 

Fact: The opposite is actually true. ABA therapy focuses on positive reinforcement, the goal being to instill self-confidence and the opportunity to build on successes.

Myth: ABA won’t work for older children. 

Fact: While we do emphasize the value of early intervention, our Fort Myers ABA therapy services work for children of all ages. With older children, what we frequently find is that the process may take longer or require greater intensity to be effective – but it absolutely does still work.

If you have questions about our ABA therapy services at FOCUS, we encourage you to call and set up an appointment to speak to our team, see our facility and observe our practices.

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
Additional Resources:
A Case Study in the Misrepresentation of Applied Behavior Analysis in Autism, Spring 2009, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis
More Blog Entries:
FOCUS Fort Myers Now Offers ADOS Test for Autism, May 31, 2019, Fort Myers ABA Therapy Blog

The post Fort Myers ABA Therapy – Busting Myths and Misconceptions appeared first on Focus Therapy.

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When does picky eating become a disability? Fort Myers OT (occupational therapy) services for children may be necessary for picky eaters when severe aversions to certain foods morph into “problem feeding,” a significant hindrance to healthy growth and development.

Parents of picky eaters can easily feel consumed by mealtime battles. They aren’t alone.

An 11-year longitudinal study of 120 kids published in the journal Eating Behaviors revealed that at any given time, between 13 and 22 percent of kids were reported by parents to be “picky eaters.” (Other researchers have put the figure as high as 50 percent.) About 40 percent of picky eaters kept it up for 2 years or more. This was different from those who simply went through short-burst phases of strong dislike for one food or another.

Instead, as our Fort Myers OT providers have seen, truly picky “problem” eaters consume an extremely limited variety of foods, even requiring it to be prepared in certain ways. They tend to show much stronger dislike for most foods and throw major tantrums. Some simply refuse to eat.

“What we see is their pickiness is extremely restrictive,” said Fort Myers OT Krystle Hofstetter. “They’ll eat just two or three items – and that’s it.”

The good news is: We can help!

At FOCUS, we have both occupational therapists and speech therapists trained in a technique known as the Sequential Oral Sensory Feeding Approach, or S.O.S. It helps introduce children to foods with different textures, flavors, shapes, colors, smells and sizes – at their own pace and with positive reinforcement.

“He’ll Eat When He’s Hungry” and Other Myths 

You may have heard advice from well-meaning (but misunderstanding) friends and family that your child will “eat when he’s hungry.” Many meal-makers try this out of desperation – but find it doesn’t work. If you are at that point, you may need to consider there is more going on than simple stubbornness.

The most common underlying issues with problem feeding include:

  • Sensory processing difficulty;
  • Impaired proprioceptive input;
  • Motor planning problems.

With sensory processing difficulty, children don’t like the way it feels. They may spit it out before they even swallow it. They may be incapable of any interaction with most foods, can’t stand it on their plates or may not even enter the house if the smell is overpowering. Sensory processing disorder is frequently (but not necessarily) an issue for children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It’s not limited to children with this diagnosis either.

A child with impaired proprioceptive input, meanwhile, struggles with body awareness. As it relates to feeding, the child is unable to sense where the food is in their mouth. This can make it a little scary to bite into food when it squishes or shatters because they aren’t able to control and manipulate it.
Picky eating could also be the result of motor planning problems. That means a child has trouble planning the physical movements of the jaw, cheek and tongue necessary to push food into their teeth, chew or move the food toward the back of their mouth to swallow.
“All of this means that allowing a child to ‘get hungry enough’ isn’t going to solve the problem,” Hofstetter explained. “That’s why therapeutic intervention is needed.”
How a Fort Myers OT Can Help “Picky” Eaters
The S.O.S. Approach to Feeding is a careful technique developed by Dr. Kay Toomey that addresses each of these underlying issues that can lead to “problem feeding.” 
It is an interdisciplinary method that involves potentially up to 32 steps, depending on how severe the child’s aversions or difficulties are. There may be certain exercises to strengthen oral-facial muscles, and there is usually a process of progressive desensitization to get a child used to food. We start by placing it in the room, then looking at, touching, smelling, playing with and even kissing it before the final phase of actually licking/tasting/chewing/swallowing. This happens over a period of days, weeks and even months.
“We have had great success with SOS feeding therapy, absolutely,” Hofstetter said. “Parents have really been stunned at the progress we’re able to make. But the key really is to stay consistent at home.”
There is absolutely no force-feeding allowed. This has to be done on their own terms, at their own pace.
When problem feeding stems from one of the aforementioned issues, it’s not a “battle of wills.” You won’t win by using punishment, bribes or begging. It’s a matter of working together with the entire family on board, keeping it positive and staying on-task.
Parents of picky eaters can discuss these matters first with their primary physician, who may make a referral. Our Fort Myers OT clinic also welcomes initial consultations to see whether a more in-depth evaluation and possible treatment through therapy is the best course of action. If you’re already receiving Fort Myers OT services and are curious about SOS feeding therapy – just ask!
FOCUS offers pediatric occupational therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
Additional Resources:
SOS Approach to Feeding, 2017, Toomey & Associates
More Blog Entries:

The post Fort Myers OT Tips: When Your Child Might Need Feeding Therapy appeared first on Focus Therapy.

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FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers is now offering the ADOS test for autism diagnosis.

Unlike simple developmental screenings, the ADOS test is a more rigorous medical evaluation conducted by trained clinicians. It’s considered the gold standard evidence on which pediatric neurologists diagnose autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which has a current prevalence rate of 1 in 59 children (and 1 in 38 boys).

As providers of pediatric speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapy at FOCUS, we preach the value of intensive, early intervention therapy because we KNOW it works. It’s most effective when initiated before age 5 – but almost no health insurance provider is going to cover that treatment absent a qualifying diagnosis. One of the first steps in that process is an ADOS test.

What is an ADOS Test?

ADOS stands for Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. It’s a semi-structured evaluation of:

  • Communication (voice, speech and language skills)
  • Cognitive function
  • Social interaction
  • Social-emotional function
  • Adaptive skills

The person administering the test is going to carefully observe your child, ask or prompt them to complete a series of tasks and test their ability to problem-solve, socially engage, convey needs, play and pretend. The test also includes in-depth parent/caregiver interviews, which offer a more complete picture.

The ADOS test can work for kids of all ages and developmental levels – including toddlers and those with no speech.

Although autism isn’t actually diagnosed with an ADOS test, the pediatric neurologist or other specialist who makes that determination will want to have the results in hand. Unlike a condition like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, there is no blood test or brain scan that will give us a yes-no on autism. There is also no obvious physical characteristic unique to children with autism.

Further complicating matters is the fact that people with autism experience it on a vast spectrum and there can be co-morbidity with other conditions, such as intellectual disabilities, ADHD, Down syndrome and more.

Plus: Autism is just one kind of neurodevelopmental disorder. Signs and symptoms of autism can actually be an indicator of other conditions like:

  • Non-verbal learning disorder
  • Intellectual disability
  • Social pragmatic communication disorder
  • Motor disorders

Although most kids with autism aren’t diagnosed until after age 4, doctors and researchers are increasingly convinced most could have been diagnosed by 2 – even as young as 18 months. The longer a diagnosis is delayed, the more time we lose in that critical early intervention window.

The road to the best outcomes with any of these conditions starts with a thorough evaluation that can help doctors make an accurate diagnosis.

Where Do I Start in Fort Myers if I Think My Child Might Have Autism?

Many families start with their child’s regular pediatrician, who should be conducting developmental screenings for your child to ensure they are meeting all or most of the milestones they should. Alternatively, our pediatric therapists can offer a free screening to determine if it makes sense to conduct an ADOS test.

The results of the ADOS will indicate the degree of concern. That report will then go to the pediatric neurologist, whom you will meet with to make a determination. If your child is diagnosed with autism or some other neurological condition, the neurologist will prescribe a combination of speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA therapy (behavior therapy) and possibly physical therapy.

It’s not uncommon for parents to be taken aback or even totally blindsided when a doctor or teacher suggests their child undergo an ADOS test. They may think, for example, that a child who loves hugs couldn’t possibly be on the autism spectrum. The reality is while many children on the spectrum have some form of sensory integration disorder (which can make a child either hypo- or hyper-sensitive), it’s not 100 percent universal.

One study published in the journal Autism Research discovered huge variations in the degree to which parents were aware of the social deficits and other traits or characteristics associated with autism.

Although the whole process can seem overwhelming at first, know that the very best way to treat autism is with early intervention therapy. Our dedicated team of therapists will help walk you through the process and be there every step of the way.

FOCUS Therapy now offers the ADOS test in Fort Myers, as well as speech, occupational, ABA and physical therapy for children. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Neurological Evaluation of Autism, The Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida

More Blog Entries:

, April 2, 2019, FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers Autism Treatment Blog

The post FOCUS Fort Myers Now Offering ADOS Test for Autism appeared first on Focus Therapy.

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Many of our Fort Myers occupational therapists at FOCUS Fort Myers believe in a holistic approach to treating children with a wide range of delays and disorders. What that means is we focus on “the whole child,” and not just a series of symptoms or conditions – and treat with evidence-based therapeutic strategy and (hopefully, where it’s possible) avoid the need for pharmaceutical intervention. Part of this can involve essential oils, powerful plant extracts that have proven effective in a wide range of applications from boosting focus and attention to promoting relaxation and calming.

Often referred to as “aromatherapy,” (and many do smell very good), our occupational therapists wouldn’t bother to mention it if it were simply expensive potpourri. Far from a gimmick, the truth is there is real science to support the effectiveness of essential oils in numerous applications – from promoting healing in prematurely-born infants to helping a child who struggles with transitions calm and self-regulate.

Exploratory Study Promotes Essential Oils as a Benefit for Children With Autism

On analysis conducted by researchers at AirAse found that certain combinations of therapeutic grade essential oils applied topically every night for several weeks were associated with positive improvements in children’s behavioral, cognitive and emotional well-being.

Previous studies on the development of Alzheimer’s disease show that the body uses sleep to clear the brain of certain “plaques” from the gray matter. (A buildup of this material is what is associated with Alzheimer’s disease). So the AirAse researchers asked mothers of children diagnosed with autism to apply a dose of essential oils on brain reflex points to promote better nightly rest. Parents then recorded their subjective observations about behaviors. This included not just sleep but variety of foods eaten, episodes of anxiety and aggression, fine and gross motor skills and ability to focus.

Marked improvements were recorded with every child and 11 of 12 continued using the essential oils for an extended time even after the study ended.

Why Essential Oils and Occupational Therapy Go Hand-in-Hand

Although we don’t know what causes autism, we do know that we can often treat it effectively with early intervention occupational therapy, speech therapy, ABA therapy and physical therapy begin before the child turns 5. Each therapy targets a different set of goals, with occupational therapy serving the broad but critical goal of helping children reach their highest level of function and independence for a more fulfilled life.

Essential oils are compliment to (not a replacement for) the type of instruction and skills that occupational therapy provides.

One of the key skills on which our FOCUS Fort Myers occupational therapists work with children who have autism spectrum disorder (and many other conditions) is self-regulation.

Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and control one’s own feelings, emotions and behavior. It requires sometimes that we block out stimuli that is irrelevant, control our instinct and impulses and persist in our task. This is hard for adults who are typically-developed. It can be incredibly difficult for a child with autism and sensory processing disorders. That’s because the ability to take in our body’s cues, read the environment, accurately process the environment and then process where our focus should be and how we can adjust our inherent response – all of that starts with sensory processing.

Occupational therapists use a play-based approach to give children the tools necessary to recognize and respond appropriately. Essential oils aren’t about giving a “miracle pill” that can sidestep that process, which can take months or years. But as noted in this exploratory study and in our own experience anecdotally, use of these oils can boost brain focus, ease tension, promote calming and improve immune function and gut health.

If you have questions about essential oils from an occupational therapist’s perspective, one of our longest-serving occupational therapists, Krystle Lopez, MScOTR/L, is a knowledgeable resource. with questions for insight and tips.

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Pediatric Experts Find Aromatherapy Effective for Promoting Infant Healing, NAS Recovery, 2019, University of Kentucky College of Medicine

More Blog Entries:

, March 31, 2019, FOCUS Occupational Therapy Blog

The post Occupational Therapists: Essential Oils Aid Self-Regulation in Children With Autism appeared first on Focus Therapy.

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Down syndrome, the most common chromosomal disorder in the world, affects 1 in every 700 children, or about 6,000 annually, a figure representing a 30 percent increase since the 1970s, according to the CDC.

Our Fort Myers speech therapists routinely treat children with Down syndrome, who frequently experience challenges to speech and language development. At minimum, speech is usually delayed, though many can be taught effective sign language to help with communication the first few years and beyond.

Most children with Down syndrome can benefit from speech therapy

Exact challenges and goals for speech therapy often vary depending the severity of certain physiological traits inherent in those with Down syndrome as well as whether they have co-occurring other conditions (to which they are prone) like hearing and vision problems, epilepsy and autism.

We know there is a great deal of variability from individual to individual when it comes to Down syndrome, but research over many decades has established that speech and language development for them as a whole tend to follow the same or similar pattern.

As noted in the journal Top Language Disorders these include:

  • Hearing loss in one or both ears or of varying degrees is sustained by about two-thirds of those with Down syndrome, which can significantly impeded speech and language development.
  • Oral-motor function – one’s physical ability to produce speech – is impacted by certain facial structures and nerve and muscle conditions seen fairly commonly in children with Down syndrome. For example, they tend to have smaller oral cavities than is typical while also having tongues that are larger-than-average. They also have arched palates that are especially high. Boys with Down syndrome especially have issues with differences in the structure of their lips, larynx and tongue that can make it more difficult to produce speech that others can understand or that encompasses the same speed and range of motion.
  • Learning delays and disabilities are common due to the fact 80 percent have moderate-range cognitive impairment. The rest are either severely cognitively impaired or have IQs that are within average range. Depending on where a child is on this scale, our Fort Myers speech therapists tend to see some trouble with short-term memory that can lead to difficulty with memorizing certain sounds which leads to reduced understanding of language and, later, reading difficulty.
  • Autism prevalence of individuals with Down syndrome is higher than the general population, about 15 percent. This impacts not just social function, but can significantly impact a child’s motivation to communicate.

Even one of these aspects would likely be cause for intervention from a speech therapist, starting at an early age. The goal often with speech therapy and children with Down syndrome isn’t to “fix” these issues or ensure they catch up in lock-step with typically-developing peers. We want them to reach their own maximum potential. These issues have a way of snowballing, so often the earlier we can begin working with them, the more we can minimize the impact.

Keep in mind also: For a child with Down syndrome, receptive language (how much they understand) is usually much stronger than their expressive language (how much they can express to others). As speech therapists, we can help bridge that gap by helping them learn to communicate with gestures and sign language. Feeling “heard” is a vital reward for communication, and it can serve as a powerful motivator for many kids.

If you have questions about how we can help, our methodologies or any other aspect of our services, please give us a call. You can schedule a tour of the clinic, meet some of our therapists and hear more about our philosophy and approach.

FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Language Characteristics of Individuals with Down Syndrome, 2009, Top Language Disorders

More Blog Entries:

, April 2, 2019, Fort Myers Speech Therapy Blog

The post Children With Down Syndrome Do Better With Speech Therapy appeared first on Focus Therapy.

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Social media newsfeeds everywhere will be suddenly awash today with blue light bulbs and puzzle piece art, marking World Autism Awareness Day (every April 2nd) and the beginning of National Autism Awareness Month. At FOCUS, members of our team have been providing Fort Myers therapy for children with autism (and many other conditions) for more than a decade now.

Occasionally during Autism Awareness Month, we come across questions/hear sentiments like:

  • What difference do blue porch lights and profile pic frames make?
  • Doesn’t everyone already know about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at this point? After all, the CDC’s newest estimate that 1 in 59 children/1 in 37 boys are diagnosed in the U.S. now annually.
  • Do we really even NEED an Autism Awareness Month anymore?
To that last question, we say: All. The. Yes.
We’re aware of some controversy within the autism community about the April awareness campaigns and whether they’re truly helpful to families navigating ASD daily. Some wonder whether autism awareness falls short in offering a full and fair representation of the whole autism community. Some assert we should be promoting acceptance rather than awareness. None of these points are invalid because frankly, the spectrum is so broad and every child with autism (and the adults supporting them) experiences and processes it uniquely, so everyone’s perspective here is to be respected. 
Our take as FOCUS Fort Myers therapists for children with autism (which include speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists and ABA therapists) is that we DO still need autism awareness – around the world, in the U.S., in Florida and right here in Fort Myers.
Here’s why:

Top 5 Reasons We Still Need Autism Awareness Month
 People Still Don’t Always Know Autism When They See It. 
Autism is defined as a developmental disability identified by specific criteria that includes deficits in communication, social interaction and is commonly marked by restrictive, repetitive behavior patterns, activities and interests that are can persist throughout life. It’s dissimilar to conditions like Down Syndrome or paraplegia in that it’s not always immediately apparent on the surface. (We’ve heard parents of a few ASD patients lament on occasion receiving a well-meaning remark from others to the effect of: “But he looks normal!” It’s not generally considered a compliment because it insinuates one’s condition is somehow not real because it can’t be easily seen).
The autism spectrum is vast. In providing therapy for children with autism in Fort Myers, we’ve found great truth in the phrase, “If you’ve met one person with autism… You’ve met one person with autism.” They are certainly not all stereotypical “Rain Man“-like savants with amazing memories or artistic abilities (though some are). They don’t universally have a phenomenally high IQ (though some do and many are very bright). Some seek excess sensory input (requiring it for calm). Others avoid sensory stimulation like the plague (and must be taught a measure of tolerance).  Co-morbidity of other conditions like ADHD, intellectual disability, Down Syndrome, OCD, ODD serves to further broaden the spectrum.
Helping teachers, family members, neighbors, classmates, emergency first responders and others recognize that autism doesn’t look like just one specific thing improves the chances they’ll have a better intuit when they see it – and respond in a way that is compassionate and understanding.

A LOT Of People Have Autism. 

Prevalence estimates vary. We mentioned above the latest CDC figures. There have also been recent estimates published in peer-reviewed journals like Pediatrics and JAMA Pediatrics indicating autism prevalence may actually be as high as 1 in every 40 children in the U.S., with roughly one-third of those not receiving treatment (a fact deeply concerning to our FOCUS therapists).

Even if a Person With Autism Isn’t In Your Home, They’re Increasingly In Your Schools, Workplaces, Worship Services, Social Circles and Beyond

As we noted in a recent FOCUS Fort Myers ABA Therapy Blog, roughly 500,000 teens with autism are poised to enter the workforce over the next decade (per autism awareness advocates at Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism). While many people with autism have numerous valuable, unique gifts that can be a major benefit in a wide range of industries and organizations, many adults with autism struggle to land their first job. Four in 10 don’t work at all in their 20s and some struggle for basic independence.

In employment and education sectors, people with autism often require some accommodations, but they contribute not just diversity but useful skills and exceptional perspective.

When more people have a heightened sense of how prevalent autism is and better grasp the expanse of the spectrum, recognizing both associated challenges AND ways in which individuals with autism can be valuable contributing members in our communities, the more inclusive of a culture we become. That makes the world a more welcoming place for people with autism – and the rest of us are better off for it too.

Autism Awareness Helps to Ensure More Support Programs Are In Place to Help. 

Organizations seeking greater autism awareness by-and-large aren’t pushing for a “cure.” But awareness is still important because it improves public backing for not just research that might help us pinpoint its cause (which we still don’t know), it boosts the availability of invaluable support services and training in our schools, our workplaces, public safety agencies, health care providers, recreational outlets (sports, movie theaters, theme parks, etc.) and society in general. Children with autism are safer when more people understand their condition (especially in the event of an emergency situations). Awareness also augments quality of life for people with autism. Promoting acceptance and inclusion makes it more likely typically-developing children won’t be deterred in interacting with peers  who have ASD (or ideally, those with any disorder) and visa versa. This also reduces bullying – a problem researchers have discovered affects a stunning 63 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder.

Early Intervention is Critical to Optimal Success. 

In raising awareness, we reduce stigmas and stereotypes and help parents, educators and health care providers not only better recognize the red flags – but also be unafraid to seek early intervention therapy for autism as soon as possible. Think about it: If your child had diabetes or cancer, you wouldn’t hesitate to seek the necessary resources to treat their condition. Autism should be no different, yet many parents of young children on the spectrum resist the diagnosis early on, either because they don’t think it looks like “real autism” or because they’re afraid of the implications of that label. But a medical diagnosis of autism for a young child opens the doors to early, intensive intervention plan that has proven almost universally to have the best outcomes.

FOCUS Delivers Results: Children With ASD Make ‘Significant’ Improvement With Therapy

Intervention services involve regular, prescribed therapies like speech & language, occupational and behavior therapy. As FOCUS Therapy founder/owner Jennifer Voltz said recently, “Every single child I have seen with an autism diagnosis – every one we got to before they turned 5 – has made SIGNIFICANT improvements.” She recalled just in the last year beginning treatment for a 2-year-old she described as “very severe.” Within six months of intensive early intervention therapy, he was talking.

“Awareness IS a worthwhile pursuit – awareness for early detection, awareness for early intervention AND most importantly for parent involvement.”

If you suspect your child may have autism, no matter how young, it’s important to understand that a wait-and-see approach is usually not the best. Persist in seeking answers and assistance. Although most children with an autism diagnosis come to us for the first time between the ages of 18 months and 4 years, our FOCUS therapists have treated children even younger. The earlier we can intervene – particularly with language/communication and social interaction deficits – the better the results.

The Florida Department of Health has a host of Florida Autism Resources. Lee Health, which serves Southwest Florida (in Lee and Collier Counties), offers the services of a professional autism navigator, and frequently conducts free autism screenings. And of course, the dedicated, knowledgeable pediatric therapists at FOCUS Therapy Fort Myers are always here to help. We offer free screenings for therapy services (which can be conducted prior to a formal evaluation, which is done with a pediatrician’s referral). Contact us any time with questions or concerns.

FOCUS offers pediatric speech, occupational, physical and ABA therapy services for children with autism in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Lehigh Acres, Bonita Springs and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Autism Awareness Month, April 2, 2018, National Institute of Mental Health

More Blog Entries:

, March 15, 2019, FOCUS ABA Therapy Blog

The post Why We Still Need Autism Awareness: Perspective From Fort Myers Therapists for Children With Autism appeared first on Focus Therapy.

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As rates of autism diagnoses climb steadily, roughly 500,000 teens with autism are poised to enter the workforce over the next decade, according to advocates at Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism. Yet the majority of those people with autism struggle to land their first job, and 4 in 10 won’t work at all in their 20s. The spectrum is incredibly broad, so each comes to the table with their own strengths and challenges, but there is no question those who receive early intervention ABA therapy, speech and language therapy and occupational therapy fare much better long-term.

Last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated autism prevalence rates by 15 percent to 1 in 59 children. That’s more than double what the rate was in 2000. Part of this has to do with improved awareness, earlier diagnoses and improved treatment models. Research published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health indicated early diagnosis (before 24 months, as early as 12 months) leads to earlier eligibility for intervention services (like ABA therapy), and other evidence-based research has indicated clear indication early intervention is causally related to better prognoses – including success in education and employment.

The AFFA reports that while most adults with autism want to work, fewer than 60 percent can land a job. The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability. Yet an adult deprived of early intervention therapies as a child has missed out on a critical development window to address significant challenges associated with everyday function and independence. This isn’t to say it’s ever entirely “too late” to initiate intervention strategies, but our ABA therapy team members know it’s most effective when it starts before age 5 (and the earlier the better). 

Individuals With Autism Grapple With Challenges Landing, Keeping Jobs

As our ABA therapy providers at FOCUS Therapy in Fort Myers can explain, autism is a type of neurological development disorder impacting how people communicate and interact with other people. Some might come across as withdrawn, disruptive or unsympathetic. They might struggle to engage in key workforce skills, like accepting constructive feedback, collaborating or just maintaining the normal flow of conversation (which impedes professional networking as well as day-to-day tasks). They may have repetitive habits or routines that employers or co-workers may find strange or difficult to understand.

But just like a person with back problems may require special accommodations like ergonomic keyboards or special seating, people with autism can be given reasonable accommodation that allows them to be successful at work. But that’s often still only if they’ve had effective early intervention strategies to help them get to that point.

Research by the University of Washington’s Autism Center, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry followed children with autism over the course of 20 years, and found those who had received early intervention like ABA therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy (beginning at 18 to 30 months, at least 15 hours weekly for two years) resulted in children who made gains in intellectual ability and language and showed new areas of progress in reduced autism symptoms. Starting one-to-one interventions as soon as symptoms emerged was key.

Compared to children with autism who did not receive this kind of intense, early intervention treatment, those who did tested higher on IQ scores, had improved adaptive function and communication and (to researchers’ surprise) most of them continued to make gains even after therapy ended. The fact that it was both early and intense made all the difference.

Our ABA therapy providers are committed to helping give your child with autism all the tools he or she needs to maximize their chances for success.

FOCUS offers pediatric ABA therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Early intervention improves long-term outcomes for children with autism, June 9, 2015, University of Washington’s Autism Center

More Blog Entries:

, Feb. 26, 2019, Fort Myers ABA Therapy Blo

The post Early Intervention Speech, Occupational, ABA Therapy Preparing Wave of People With Autism for Workforce appeared first on Focus Therapy.

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Once upon a time, vestibular dysfunction in children was thought to be exceptionally rare. Our occupational and physical therapists know, however, that pediatric vestibular disorders, which affect as many as 35 percent of adults, are increasingly being identified earlier than ever. Symptoms include chronic dizziness and imbalance. In children, vestibular system disorders can also cause problems in early development, impacting:

  • Ability to maintain an upright position when sitting;
  • Delays in crawling and walking;
  • Difficulty with steady vision when moving the head (for example when copying words or letters at a chalkboard when seated at a desk);
  • Diminished balance and motor function.

Long-term, this can have significant and painful social, educational and economic impacts for kids. Professionals on our FOCUS Fort Myers occupational and physical therapy teams are committed to identifying and addressing these issues early on, promoting the highest possible level of relief and function and ultimately mitigating the worst adverse impacts.

What is the Vestibular System and How Do I Know if My Child’s is Dysfunctional?

As our FOCUS Fort Myers physical therapy team can explain, the vestibular system is the one that helps us interpret certain types of sensory input, like motor coordination, movement and head/body position as it relates to the environment. Your vestibular system (particularly the inner ear organs) is mission-critical to compiling all that sensory information – tactile, visual, auditory and proprioceptive (sense of self-movement/body position) – and unifies it ways that help us coordinate our bodies to perform everyday tasks.

Example: You trip on the sidewalk. Your body starts falling forward toward the ground. Before your mind even has a chance to fully process and formulate a response, your vestibular system is on it. It identifies the fact that you’re falling forward. In less than a blink, it alerts other body parts to respond with protective reflexes. You turn your head, shift your torso and outstretch your arms. Your vital organs, head and face will be the first protected. That’s all your vestibular system. You can see how dysfunction with this could start to snowball very quickly.

Pediatric Vestibular Function Screening Not Standard, Problems Overlooked

Children with vestibular function issues may unfortunately hear themselves referred to commonly as “clutzy,” “hyper,” “reckless,” “fearless,” “not athletic” “lazy” or “scrawny.” Pediatric occupational and physical therapy professionals can explain these broad (and, let’s face it, unkind) range of descriptors stems from the fact there are two main types of vestibular dysfunction: hypersensitive or hyposensitive to vestibular input. 

Children with hypersensitivity input generally avoid movement, are afraid or get irritated when they are moving. Their brains have trouble sequencing the vestibular input messages they are receiving, making intense movement uncomfortable and disconcerting.

Children with hypersensitive input vestibular dysfunction may be observed:
  • Steering clear of motion-intense playground equipment like slides, see-saws, balance beams, swings or merry-go-rounds.
  • Being more content to sit, be stationary than run, spin or jump.
  • Avoiding sports or physical games.
  • Having lower than average muscle tone.
  • Eschewing any activity that requires careful balancing.

On the other side of the spectrum, children with hyposensitivity input vestibular dysfunction are identified in occupational and physical therapy settings often after parents report symptoms associated with conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The child may or may not have ADHD too and the two conditions may een be related if not causal (researchers still don’t know exactly what causes ADHD). Generally, though, ADHD and vestibular hyposensitivity (not sensitive enough to input) are thought to be two separate disorders.

Symptoms of hyposensitivity input vestibular dysfunction in children include:
  • Excessive seeking of movement-intense activities, like bouncing, swinging, jumping and spinning.
  • Appears impervious to dizziness.
  • Seems to lack safety awareness/self-preservation.
  • Gravitates toward playground equipment and tends to play harder/longer than most peers. Takes risks and seeks thrills.
  • Shows low muscle tone, poor balance and inadequate body awareness.

Research recently published in the Hearing Journal pointed out that screening for vestibular dysfunction in children diagnosed with hearing impairments is inadequate. It’s been well-established that children with hearing deficits often also experience vestibular dysfunction (related to issues with appropriate inner ear function). Of hundreds of kids automatically screened for vestibular dysfunction at a single large hospital over a six-month period, 50 percent had bilateral vestibular loss and a third had peripheral vestibular dysfunction.

For more info on Recognizing Vestibular Problems in Children, check out the American Physical Therapy Association’s Section on Neurology.

How Pediatric Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy Can Address Vestibular Dysfunction in Children

The sooner children with vestibular disorders begin treatment, the better chance we have of minimizing the long-term impacts and reducing delays. An experienced pediatric physical therapist can conduct a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation and vestibular rehabilitation, supported by occupational therapists, who work to improve daily function.

Usually the goals our FOCUS child disability therapists in Southwest Florida will be to understand the individual needs of your child and then develop a therapy plan (with instructions on home carryover for parents) on how best to provide that input to meet their needs.

So for example, if our pediatric physical therapy and occupational therapy team members are working on helping a child with hypersensitivity vestibular dysfunction (remember, that is when vestibular systems are overwhelmed with sensory input, something with which a lot of children on the autism spectrum suffer), we’re going to look at improving tolerance for certain sensory stimuli. We’ll do things like:

  • Swing (slow and rhythmic for help with calm, self-regulation, input organization).
  • Trampoline jumping.
  • Therapy ball bouncing.
  • Somersaults.
  • Bike-riding.
  • Practice with balance on unstable surfaces.
  • Obstacle course navigation practice.

These strategies are going to help a child better process the vestibular system’s ability to process those messages, improve their body awareness and ultimately promote better posture, protective reactions and visual-motor skills.

If you have concerns about your child’s vestibular system function, our occupational and physical therapy professionals in Fort Myers, Florida can help.

FOCUS offers pediatric physical and occupational therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Identifying Red Flags for Vestibular Dysfunction in Children, March 2019, The Hearing Journal

More Blog Entries:

, Feb. 26, 2019, Fort Myers Physical Therapy for Children Blog

The post Identifying, Treating Pediatric Vestibular Dysfunction Involves Occupational, Physical Therapy Collaboration appeared first on Focus Therapy.

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