Paying Special Recognition to Speech Therapists during Better Hearing and Speech Month
Communication is a fundamental skill that lays the foundation for how each of us will flourish and interact in society. Its importance cannot be understated, which is why every May we pay special recognition to Better Hearing and Speech Month, and the therapists that do the amazing work with our kids.
Our speech therapists shine a light on some common challenges that can affect a significant percentage of children during their key developmental years – and if left untreated, can have severe physical and psychological implications.
Speech challenges in children can exhibit overt symptoms such as delayed language development, but they also can lead to behavioral, self-esteem and de-motivational issues. Some speech challenges can be ‘grown out of,’ however, others left untreated can lead to more severe problems down the road. To better understand Speech Articulation and the therapy process, Child Success Center’s Licensed Speech Pathologists share keen insights about the potential challenges and successes – and general information – that parents want regarding ways to help their child’s specific needs in this area. Here are their responses to several essential questions surrounding these issues:
What are the greatest challenges you deal with as a therapist?
“As therapists, we are always challenged with coming up with new and creative ways to do therapy. Some children are very receptive to therapy and are very compliant. Other children demonstrate avoidance behaviors, may lack internal motivation or challenge the therapist behaviorally. It takes a special therapist to have patience, understanding, compassion and creativity to pull out the best in each child. This is the beauty of experience.”
What has been your greatest success story?
“I worked with a child years ago who was 2 years of age and had apraxia of speech – with only 10 words at the time. Most 2 year olds have 200-300 words. His father was a very involved parent, but needed a lot of guidance in understanding how to communicate with his son. He often drilled him with questions putting him on the spot, causing him to “shut down” when he talked to him. The father was very educated and successful in his career, however, I could sense that he did not feel success with being a parent due to this child’s communication deficit. After 6 months of treatment, both the child and the father, who also attended the weekly sessions, made huge gains. The father learned how to be a better communication partner with his son and the experience significantly changed the dynamics between them. With therapy a success, I formally assessed the little boy and his communication skills were above his peers. On the last day of therapy, his father cried and was so grateful. That was beyond rewarding for me!”
“Hearing a 3-year old child with a diagnosis of apraxia of speech say his nanny’s name for the first time without any help was one of the highlights for me. This child was known to simplify the words in his vocabulary to very similar and short words (mama, dada, nana, pa, ba, etc.). In (therapy), he was trying to share a story about his former nanny after Skyping with her the previous evening, and independently said his nanny’s full name. His mother began to tear up. It was that feel good moment that you want as a therapist with every client you treat.”
So parents can better understand the process, for the most common cases, what changes, other than in speech, do you observe in clients you work with?
“We can see more confidence and less frustration with most of the kids. Some children are teased by their peers because of their communication problems. I find that kids can become more confident in interacting with their peers too.”
“One of the most amazing and beautiful things that speech therapy does, is it helps children learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. In therapy, you have to help kids learn new skills and sometimes they don’t want to do the work. It gives them the confidence to work through their discomfort and know that they will eventually be successful with practice.”
“Therapy is a confidence booster for parents too. Some parents are shocked by what we can get out of their kids. They can’t believe that their child is willing to do the work and be pushed at times. It gives a parent a sense of pride in their child.”
“As children progress through therapy they begin to show more confidence in their skills. We see children start to stand taller, walk taller, and use a louder, more appropriate voice when unfamiliar faces are near. However, these are also the children who teach us as therapists to “think on our toes,” or else they may use their new found skill to escape their work task.”
What are the most common questions parents will ask?
“Parents typically want to know how long the therapy process will take? This is always a difficult question to answer as the time varies from child to child. It may take 3 months, but it could take over a year. It depends on why the child is coming to therapy, what are the speech errors, how many errors, what type of errors, etc. There are a lot of factors to consider which makes that question one of the most difficult to answer.”
“They ask what therapy is like and how will they get their child to do the work. They also want to know what reason they should give their child for going to speech therapy. They ask if the problem will go away on its own – without therapy. They often ask if they have done something to create this problem (parents often blame themselves).”
What are the most common questions kids will ask, if any?
“Kids often want to understand why they are coming to speech therapy (especially the older ones). As they continue to come and they are in the final stages of therapy, they want to know when they will be graduating and what we do for graduation parties. They often ask about the kind of toys and games we play?”
Child Success Center is unique from other therapy facilities because it features a fully equipped and kid friendly gymnasium that the kids love to explore. How do you use the gym to help clients and why is it effective?
“The gym is a great tool to motivate kids. We sometimes use the gym as a reward in the middle or end of our sessions. It’s also great for children who are not regulated and need movement to help them feel more regulated in their bodies. Children that have high arousal levels and children who are under aroused benefit from speech work in the gym to help them stay internally organized and regulated. This helps them to attend more to the speech work and also helps motivate them. Physical movement helps jump start the communication centers in the brain.
“We see many children ranging in age from 2 years old to 12 years old. These children always enjoy knowing that they have gym time after working hard in speech. For other children, the gym is used to help the child during the speech session. These children typically benefit from the repetition of drilling for specific sounds, requesting by using language, and by utilizing the gym equipment. For these children, sitting in a chair at a desk is not the ideal situation because their body may need vestibular and proprioceptive input. When working with these children, the occupational therapists are amazing at providing tips to help improve a speech session. These tips may include providing the child with heavy work (e.g. climbing, moving pillows around) to help regulate a child or swinging in a specific manner (e.g. linear movement, spinning, etc.) and even jumping.”
Kindergarten Camp will help your child discover his love for learning!
Kindergarten Camp is for any child that has one (1) of the following needs:
- Support in the transition to kindergarten
- Skills when adapting to a new environment
- Creation of meaning and enjoyment while learning
- Development of handwriting and fine motor activities
- Identification of phonological awareness and early reading processes
- Focus on academics while being at a developmental preschool
By taking an educational therapy approach and incorporating research-based programs, the Child Success Center Kindergarten Enrichment Camp offers your child a unique, summer learning experience, while having great fun in our 4,000 square foot facility in Santa Monica, that includes two indoor sensory-motor gyms.
K-CAMP is an individualized experience, with highly trained learning specialists looking at the “whole child” while meeting the specific needs of each child. Campers will work with a learning specialist to explore their learning journey. During the K-CAMP learning adventure, each child will be helped to develop confidence when taking the first steps toward reading, writing, attending to a new routine and being socially involved. Our approach allows visual and auditory integration, providing the child with a thorough learning experience and understanding from many areas of the brain.
K-CAMP provides a balance of educational, classroom-like experiences and positive social development opportunities. Our team utilizes the hugely effective Social Thinking curriculum that builds the body & brain awareness that is supportive to learning exploration. Our gymnasium provides a fun, interactive and comfortable learning environment for children. With success comes the joy of seeing your child adapt to new circumstances, thrive socially, develop the necessary skills to succeed in school and learn effectively and happily.
K-CAMP will ignite your child’s learning journey whether the goal is remediation of skills and/or enrichment, all while having great summer fun!
Much of the CSC Kindergarten Camp program is based on the following areas of learning and acquisition of skills.
- Social Thinking & Whole-Body Listening – develops skills in focusing, listening, auditory cohesion and attending to the body in group and learning situations. Addressing whole-body listening can allow the child to understand the role of their brain in an array of experiences. (this is incorporated in all learning endeavors)
- Auditory Discrimination – increases the understanding and ability to discern between the differences in sounds. Sounds make up words which make up sentences and passages. Discrimination is important in all areas of learning- reading, writing and visual/auditory integration. Understanding discrimination can often bring about comfort and confidence in the reading process.
- Auditory Memory – increases ability to develop phonemes, words and sentences and retain and recall information that is presented orally.
- Phonological Skills – evolve through learning sounds and developing phonological awareness through sound-symbol relationship, blending and segmentation, and incorporating visual, auditory and motion into the learning process.
- Handwriting – includes letter and number formation, sequencing, and development of healthy, adaptive handwriting practices.
EXPECTATIONS OF SCHOOLS
Common Core Standards have clearly upped the stakes when it comes to what skills your child will need to have in his academic and social tool belt upon entering Kindergarten. The expectations for these young children are high and include age appropriate proficiency in reading, writing, listening and collaboration. The CSC Kindergarten Camp program addresses all of these areas while maintaining a fun and stress-free environment your child will look forward to each day.
Social thinking plays a significant role in learning development and the educational experience.
One might correctly assume that social thinking is the process by which we interpret the thoughts, beliefs, intentions, emotions, knowledge and actions of another person along with the context of a situation to understand that person’s experience or perspective, and how to react accordingly. But social thinking skills also play a significant role in learning development and the educational experience.
Learning instances can provide a number of potentially challenging “social” situations – group interactions, self-regulatory expectations, knowledge of body awareness, social exchanges and an understanding of listening. By using the social thinking model, we promote growth in areas that are critical for a learning foundation and are vital to successfully managing many life endeavors and day-to-day situations.
If a child is feeling socially uneasy, struggles to verbalize and identify needs, feels disconnected within a group or has trouble self-regulating, that child may find it difficult to learn and derive meaning from learning experiences. These situations arise daily for so many children, and if social skills are left un-addressed, a child can fall further and further behind socially and academically, creating loss of self-esteem and creative potential.
We expect children to enter into a multitude of situations, some new, some routine, and our goal is for them to have the skills to thrive and find themselves successful, comfortable and confident in doing so. Social thinking development provides this opportunity for success.
Child Success Center’s Friendship Club is designed for the child, ages 5-8, who is having a difficult time navigating the social landscape of the classroom or group setting and/or building friendships. The program is designed to use a multimodal approach of positive reinforcement, flexible behavior systems, floor time aspects, mindfulness practices, and the Social Thinking®curriculum, “We Thinkers – Social Explorers™” for early learners.
One in five young children are struggling in school right now. If this includes your child, early assistance can have her or him back on track this school year.
Now that we are half way through the school year and at, what should be, a steady pace for your child, this is a great time to address concerns that may have come to light regarding his or her development or learning journey. If you or your child’s teacher has growing concerns about your child’s progress at school, now is the time to seek information or get an assessment to have him or her back on track to finish the school year at their maximum potential.
It is not uncommon for a preschool or elementary school teacher to identify challenges that your child may be experiencing at school and for you not to see those challenges at home. The school environment is a multi-sensory setting with many challenges that the home setting does not have. Children need to keep themselves calm to focus and attend to friends and teachers over a long period of time. They use their motor and language skills in a more complex manner while being challenged cognitively.
For our preschool aged children it is our role as parents to help them play and learn, and as such, we often don’t realize the amount of influence we offer to help keep them calm, happy and successful. Many times children who need a certain level of support away from home, struggle to actively engage in preschool and at times, this happens in higher grades too. Whatever the grade or age of your child, and as hard as it is listen to what your school and teachers have to say, it is valuable information that you should use in seeking additional support from either a developmental specialist (often a speech therapist and/or occupational therapist) or a tutor.
Parents and educators should take note of how well the kids in their care are progressing and look for signs and symptoms that might signal the need for some extra attention and/or educational and therapeutic support. Addressing concerns, whether they are related to learning, motor skills, speech, sensory, behavior, or development are most successfully resolved when caught early on to prevent them from becoming a much more difficult issue to treat. Additionally, when parents and teachers intervene with the right support at the right time, it is far more likely that challenges will be corrected quickly so as not to strongly impact a child’s overall educational focus, or more importantly, their self-concept and self-esteem.
For some parents, it can be very difficult to realize that their child is experiencing a challenge, but it’s important to know that ALL children develop at different rates. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for many children to need assistance of one type or another at some point during their essential growth years. The Center For Disease Control, which documents neurological and developmental disorder rates, estimates that 16.7% of children have diagnosed developmental and/or learning challenges, and further estimates that when adding those who are undiagnosed, the figure could be up to one in five children struggling with development and the learning process.
In addition to inquiring with teachers and other caregivers, observe your child closely and ask yourself key questions that may indicate a need for help. To offer a better understanding of what to look for, we’ve assembled some key questions to assist you in identifying the types of markers that can indicate a potential issue that needs attention:
- Has your preschooler experienced a stalled improvement in vocabulary or pronunciation – or has he or she developed an unusual speech pattern?
- Does your child have difficulty properly holding a pencil, using scissors or other routine instrument?
- Is your child unusually clumsy, or having trouble running, climbing or even sitting still?
- Does your preschooler have difficulty playing with other children or sharing with classmates in an age-appropriate way?
- For Kindergarten or grade school aged children: Have their writing penmanship skills plateaued and/or stopped improving in ability from earlier in the school year?
- Is your child struggling with attention and/or following directions?
- Is your child struggling with any areas of academic achievement?
- Is your child avoiding table top play that involves coloring, cutting, drawing or writing?
- Is reading overwhelming for your child and causing anxiety?
For children who need help in any of the areas noted above, parents are encouraged to confer with their child’s teacher for more insight regarding what may be going on, or what can be done to assist the child. Sometimes the parent may see things at home that a teacher does not see. Many children hold it together throughout the school day and are a different child at home. If you, as the parent see this, seek help. Sometimes the observations at school and home are the same and sometimes they are very different. If a child is stressed and struggling, get help early.
If necessary, do not hesitate to seek a qualified professional therapist who can identify the challenge and suggest a treatment or tutoring strategy that can get your child back in the “groove” before the challenge becomes a greater issue. The most important thing is to identify the problem and institute a strategy to help them glide over the speed bump as soon as possible. If you would like additional counsel, Child Success Center has a team of qualified occupational, speech/language and educational therapists who can assist in assessing any difficulties your child might be experiencing and help to keep your little one flying high for the remainder of the school year.
Student backpacks are synonymous with school and books, however, many parents are uninformed about the seriousness and long term effects of not using the backpack correctly or how to choose the right backpack in the first place.
Wednesday, September 21st, is National Backpack Awareness Day and its significance should not be taken lightly. Parents should take careful note of the tips below to avoid potentially long lasting and serious injury to your kids.
The Child Success Center Friendship Club is designed for the child ages 4-7 who is having a difficult time navigating the social landscape of a classroom or group and/or building friendships.
For these children, growing and learning to engage with others in their universe can be confusing and/or overwhelming, and undesired behavior may emerge or the child may become isolated. Research shows that a common language, similar boundaries, and expectations of a child across all environments aides a child in feeling safe and increasing desired behaviors.
Friendship Club provides opportunities through physical play experiences that help a child fill his or her tool bag with skills. Our large sensory motor gym provides the setting for engaged learning through a variety of fun gross motor activities, including swings, rock wall, zip line, trampoline, pillow pit, monkey bars and more!
Friendship Club uses aspects of floor time and adult-led play to foster comfort for children when engaging with others. It will build upon their current social knowledge and challenge them to grow past parallel play – using their words in sharing, turn-taking, and dramatic play. We also ask for parental involvement in order for the child’s behavior to generalize to their everyday life. We will provide you and your family with tools that will make play dates, parties, and social interaction easier for everyone. An adult will be asked to attend the end of each camp day in order to learn what “tools” we put in the social skills toolbox that day, and how to implement these tools at home. Learn more>
Our next session of Friendship Club begins Saturday, January 23, 2016 – enrollment is now open. Call the Child Success Center at 310.899.9597 for more info or to enroll.
by Melissa Idelson, Director – Child Success Center
Looking back over the last 10 years, like most people say, I can’t believe it’s gone so quickly. My daughter was just 3 years old when my dream of having a center that helped children struggling with developmental and learning challenges thrive, came to life. We started off small in the back of a preschool. We turned a small group room into a gym and started to work with children in the Pacific Palisades community. It wasn’t long before we grew out of this space. Good fortune led us to a collaboration with a colleague offering social skills groups in Santa Monica. It was there that our team of occupational therapists, speech therapists and educational therapists grew and built the beginnings of the Child Success Center mission.
Two years later, prompted by the needs of families of the west side communities, Child Success Center moved into its own space on Pico Blvd. and continued to build new programs for children and support for their families. Now at our 10 year anniversary and 8 years in our beautiful 4000 square foot learning space, I feel truly blessed to work alongside a team of experienced, compassionate, dedicated and creative therapists. Every day I look forward to the challenges of the day, knowing that the CSC team will come to the center ready to work and with an inspired plan to help each child learn and grow.
We love what we do and look forward with great expectations to the next 10 years. Thank you to all the parents who have entrusted us with your precious children, and thank you to all the unique and wonderful children we have have the privilege of getting to know.
Eating is a full body sensory motor experience and feeding difficulties can be complex.
When my now 8 year old child entered preschool for the first time at age 3, I remember being very worried if he would eat at school, how the separation would go and the beginning of toilet training. It was a time of building independence for him and for me.
At the time he had a limited repertoire of foods and became very irritable if he did not eat. Now after working with parents and children as a sensory integration occupational therapist for 25 years I have seen how common feeding challenges are. In fact research states that 20% of children from birth to 7-8 yrs of age will classify as having some type of feeding issue at some point in their lives. That is 1 in every 5.
As parents and educators, we are aware that there are times in development where children struggle more with the process of feeding. The research supports these times, 4-6 months, 12-14 months, 2-3 yrs, 5-7 yrs and 9-11 yrs. In fact 50% of 2 year olds are often picky eaters, as many of us have experienced, however only a little more than half will grow out of it.
So why is feeding so challenging? Eating is the hardest thing we do as human beings. Eating involves 7 different areas of human function and all need to work correctly and together to get the job done. Pretty tall order!
Eating in the first 4-6 weeks of life is an appetite instinct. At 4-6 months it is driven by primitive motor reflexes. But by 6 months and going forward, eating is learned behavior.
Below are the 7 areas that all need to be integrated for successful eating :
- Internal organs – all are used
- Muscular system
- All senses- sight, smell, taste, touch/texture, hearing ( the noises you hear in your head as you crunch), balance, Proprioception ( jaw movement), Interception ( blood glucose levels, satiation, stretch receptors in the stomach)
- Learning- history of learned behaviors related to feeding
- Developmental stage and individual learning style
- Nutritional status
Children with eating/feeding difficulties before the age of 3 should NOT be considered to have behavioral problems. These difficulties are due to skill deficits and or physical problems in one of the 7 major areas listed above.
After seeing how complicated eating really is and how many areas could be challenged in the process, it is clear to see why the research supports that in actually only 10% of the cases, parents are the problem behind children with feeding challenges.
So how do we help our children eat at school and get the nutrition they need to focus and learn.
For children 18 months to 10 years of age a normal metabolism requires food every 2.5 to 3 hours. In order to eat the amount of food a child needs during meals they need approximately 20 minutes to attend to a meal. If physical activity such as recess occurs prior to sitting down to eat, research shows that children will attend and eat better.
Here are some tips for parents and educators as your child heads back to school:
- Environment: Be aware of all the sensory experiences a child is exposed to when eating at home and school. If you can make modifications and adapt the setting that’s a great way to support eating. Occupational therapists can help identify inappropriate environment factors and create suggestions to the family on how to make corrections where it is feasibly possible to do so. When it isn’t, a child can be supported via a “Social Story”. With your child, write a Social Story that discusses where meals will be taken, what will be eaten, where the food might have come from, and what awesome changes happen in the body when you eat well. Collaborate with your child’s teacher before the school year begins by sending an email that includes the social stories you have created and the information you have gathered regarding how to increase successful eating for your child. Working as a team is key.
- Experiencing eating together: Studies show that when an adult sits down with the child and eats a new food with them, modeling the behavior, the outcome has greater chance of success. Websites such as ChooseMyPlate.org are great resources. During this time the children benefit from the adults talking about the sensory qualities of the foods and nutritional qualities. Removing all values judgment such as, “this is healthy and this is junk food”, is best.
- Look at Positioning — Does your child have good supported posture so that she can focus on eating instead of holding herself upright? This is especially important for any child with developmental delays. Are her feet supported on the floor or on a bench so that her hips, knees and ankles are at a 90 degree angle? Is the table at the right height so that her arms can rest comfortably without having to reach way up high? Does she have adequate support at her trunk and back to keep her from feeling like she will fall out of the chair?
- Play With Your Food! Make an effort to play with food that your child may be resistant to. Being able to touch an unfamiliar or undesirable food is a big step in the right direction when the ultimate goal is to get that food into a child’s mouth.
- Practice smelling foods: The sense of smell helps to create the flavors that we taste in food. This is the reason that when we have a cold, nothing tastes quite right. Keep in mind that when you heat foods, they smell stronger! If your child is sensitive to smells, serve food at room temperature.
- Always promote movement before meals: Activating the muscles and joints supports sitting for the desired 20 minutes children need to eat a meal.
Does the child move while eating?
Know How the Body Works — Think about the body awareness, coordination, and motor planning it takes to get your hand to your mouth! Kids have to be able to grade their movements, using appropriate force and timing to be able to feed themselves. You may take this for granted, but for little ones, it can be tricky! Check out the cups and utensils your child uses. How heavy or light are they, and how does this affect the way they eat? Sometimes preschoolers need a little cheerleading and hands on help to get the nutrition they need, to have a successful day at school.
Kids are smart! Provide them with the tools they need to feel comfortable, in control and empowered and they may just surprise you! Remember that eating is a full body sensory motor experience and that feeding difficulties can be complex.
Child Success Center Occupational therapists can answer questions and help.
SOS Approach to Feeding – Dr. Kay Toomey is a pediatric psychologist who has worked for over 20 years with children who don’t eat. She developed the highly effective, family-centered SOS Approach to Feeding to assess and successfully treat children with feeding problems, which is used by therapists worldwide.
Choosemyplate.org – Provides practical information to individuals, health professionals, nutrition educators, and the food industry to help consumers build healthier diets with resources and tools for dietary assessment, nutrition education, and other user-friendly nutrition information. Special activities, recipes and more to inspire kids to eat healthier and move more.
by Gina Costello, Director, Speech Dept., Child Success Center
The joy, intrigue and satisfaction of working with children as a speech-language pathologist.
Working as a Speech Language Pathologist, it’s hard to believe that I saw my first client 18 years ago. I remember the feeling I had leading up to that first session. It was a mixture of excitement, anticipation and a bit of anxiety knowing that I could help an individual communicate in their world and could have a positive impact on their life. It felt extraordinary!
After all of these years working as a speech language pathologist, I continue to feel the same level of joy and intrigue that I did when I was a new therapist. The difference is, now I have the experience,
patience and understanding to help my clients overcome their communication challenges. In essence, I have more “tools” in my toolbox!
There are many reasons why I love what I do! I’m always excited to try the latest therapy techniques and share new educational tools and tips with parents. I find great satisfaction giving parents
strategies and tips to try at home. As a result, families feel more empowered and so does the child.
Recently, a parent expressed how her relationship with her daughter has significantly improved since they started coming to therapy. She thanked me for being a partner in this process. It felt very gratifying to know that we worked as a team to improve her child’s life.
As a speech language pathologist, I’m constantly being challenged to come up with new and creative therapy activities. I love the freedom that I have in creating a session that suits the specific needs of a child. There’s no better experience than greeting a child in the waiting room and watching them race down the hall to my
therapy room with eager anticipation for the session.
One of my favorite parts of my job is the collaboration with other therapists and professionals in the community. The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” couldn’t be more appropriate when it comes to supporting a child who has a communication deficit.
Over the years the expertise, knowledge, advice and encouragement that I’ve received from other professionals has been invaluable. The best part of my job is watching a child grow into a confident and effective communicator. I have watched children go from being nonverbal to talking in sentences. I have seen children who were once very shy and timid become more confident and enthusiastic when communicating with their peers. Every day I work with families is a gift and a reminder of the positive impact I can have on their lives. I am continuously reminded of how fortunate and honored I am to have this opportunity!
Additional Resources for Parents:
What is Auditory Defensiveness, how are some children affected, and what role does an Occupational Therapist play in treatment?
Commonly, when parents and teachers find out that I am a Sensory Integration trained Occupational Therapist, they will ask questions about either sound sensitivity or touch sensitivity. They will tell me about a child who seems unsettled or distressed in loud environments, frequently covers their ears to sounds that other children tolerate, are bothered by noises made by everyday things like vacuum cleaners and hair dryers, or avoids activities that have loud environments such as parties, ballgames, and movies. These children often ask, “Did you hear that? – What’s that noise? – Who’s talking?”, when the parent doesn’t hear anything at all. Parents may also share that their child seems overly sensitive, is anxious in new environments, needs more protection from the world, and exhibits tactile and or movement sensitivity. What these parents are describing is a condition known as “auditory defensiveness”.
When the World Gets Too Loud
Auditory defensiveness is a clinical condition in which a child is highly sensitive to sound. This means that sounds and voices that would not register at all, or would not be perceived as irritating to a typically functioning nervous system, are perceived by the child as too loud, too high pitched, or otherwise difficult to tolerate, and so he must defend himself against them. The child that is moving through their day in a defensive mode can often struggle to stay calm enough to play with friends, learn at school and be part of a family dynamic at home. To survive they may learn to cope by tuning out, hyper-focusing on something else, holding their hands over their ears, attempting to escape the situation in which they find themselves , or by acting out in such a way that the adults are left no choice but to remove them from the situation. Many times the adults around the child will identify a behavior challenge while not always identifying the root. They may struggle to believe that the auditory issue is real for the child, as their nervous system perceives the incoming sound information differently and without struggle. It may be extremely difficult if a sibling close in age is able to process typically, and therefore presents with more flexibility, and overall, an easier child to parent.
A child with auditory sensitivity is alerted to noises that a typically functioning nervous system would recognize as irrelevant and filter out, and may respond to them as if those things were a cause for alarm. As an adult I will equate this to the cocktail party experience. You are often juggling a plate of food, a glass of wine and a conversation with a new person. There is always a lot of back ground noise. For some adults this is not hard work for their ears. For my nervous system, on the other hand, it can be exhausting. I often feel tired from concentrating on the conversation while simultaneously attempting to filter foreground from background sound.
It’s tough to navigate school as well, when your hearing is so sensitive. For the pre-schooler, the classroom often sounds like a cocktail party—lots of children talking at the same time coupled with conflict situations that may include an upset child. For the elementary school aged child the sounds of the bells, children shouting, the echoing noise of the bathrooms or auditorium, the chaos of the playground and the cafeteria, are all experienced as an assault, and will put a child whose hearing is ultra-sensitive on high alert and force him to stay in that mode.
It is very hard to stay calm, regulated and ready to learn, problem solve and share, when your nervous system is in a constant state of alert. For the majority of the school day, children are listening to a teacher’s voice (often a female voice), and for many children the most challenging types of auditory defensiveness is sensitivity to high pitched sound. A high frequency sound dissipates in the air faster than low frequency. Attuning to the teacher’s voice and then holding on to the directions can be difficult, creating additional learning challenges for the child.
A child with auditory defensiveness may also be experiencing other development and/or learning challenges. There are several ways that sensory integration therapy can help a child with auditory defensiveness. An occupational therapist with advanced practice will be able to assess and treat by improving the ability of the inner ear to do the job of filtering and dampening sound. This is done by providing the child with intense movement experiences. Movement affects the workings of the inner ear, which in addition to filtering sound, is responsible for monitoring where we are in space. As one system improves, so does the other. Occupational therapists with additional training can prescribe special filtered music, like the kind used in “The Listening Program”, that trains the ear and brain to be less sensitive to sound. This music can be very helpful to children who have trouble attending in noisy environments.
Sensory integration therapy works on improving the way that the nervous system function registers, integrates and processes sensory input. An occupational therapist trained in sensory processing employs specific techniques that may include integrating primitive reflex patterns that can often support development.
There are also strategies, that when designed for the individual child and his/her environment, are often referred to as a sensory diet. These strategies may include:
- Modifying the environment (such as in a school) by considering the acoustics in the classroom. Changing seating arrangements may be beneficial and limiting extraneous noise from the hallway by closing the door or windows is also helpful. It may be necessary to cover the loud speaker with material to tone down the volume.
- Having rugs or carpet on the floor will decrease echo and extraneous noises.
- Whenever possible, children should be given advance notice about bells, announcements, fire drills, etc.
- Having the child wear headphones or earmuffs that cover the entire ear to filter out extraneous background noises.
- Playing calming music such as Mozart in the headphones or as background music.
- If concentration is an issue, the child should chew gum, suck on sour candies, and/or eat fruit roll ups, or crunchy snacks.
Generally speaking, a smaller, quieter, more structured classroom is a better fit for a sensory defensive child. I also advise parents not to expect their child to be able to tolerate concerts or to endure long stays at noisy family gatherings until the problem is corrected.
I am often asked if the problem is permanent. Auditory sensitivity may or may not go away, but with appropriate intervention, it should at least, diminish. Sometimes children grow out of their defensiveness and sometimes sensory integration therapy can eradicate it completely. Devising coping strategies, like keeping earplugs and something to chew on in your child’s backpack, helps him feel more in control.
Remember our children need us to play detective. Find out the reason for the behavior. Believe that is it often real for them, even if you don’t feel it, and try to put strategies in place to keep their nervous system calm.
And, as always, you’re not alone. If you have any concerns about your child’s auditory sensitivities, seek out the expertise of a sensory integration trained occupational therapist – they can help make life better for your child and your family.