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Why Dads Should be Involved in Their Child’s Therapy

Family dynamics can make a parent feel invisible. All families are complex and rich with unique patterns that get created early on. A dominant parent can emerge because of personality differences and family habits. Both parents, however, have an important role to play in their child’s development. Research shows that children benefit greatly when their dads participate in their lives.


Not so long ago, fathers were often kept out of the parenting loop. The growth of two-income families in our society has recently changed the rules. Biology, however, does not care about societal constraints. Just like mothers do, men undergo hormonal changes when they are about to have a baby, and in the year following the birth of their child. Their testosterone (male hormone associated with virility and aggression) goes down, while their oxytocin (so-called love hormone) goes up. These hormonal shifts make both men and women more nurturing, but there are some differences. Males make oxytocin when they physically play with their child, while females produce more of the hormone when they hug and cuddle with their offspring.

There are many reason why fathers should be involved in their child’s therapy. Studies have shown that fathers not only tend to play more physically with their children, but they approach play differently than mothers do. Rough and tumble activities can help a child who has poor body awareness or needs more tactile and proprioceptive (receptors in your joints that register pressure) input. The increased sensory activity can improve a child’s alertness and interaction. When compared to mothers, studies show that fathers are more likely to use a toy differently than for its intended purpose. The dad’s approach, in this case, is helpful to a child who needs to expand his play repertoire.

In addition, dads have the power to influence their child’s behavior and outcome. Studies show that children who had an
involved father early on in their lives, were less likely to show behavioral problems later on. As a matter of fact, a dad’s involvement is a strong predictor of a child’s positive outcome for emotional regulation, cognition and communication. When a dad wants to spend time with his child, culturural constraints can often act as a gatekeeper. This means that a father’s participation should be encouraged through community education and early intervention services—the earlier the better. Researchers point out that with the proper professional support, fathers of children with disabilities achieve a higher level of well-being and adaptation. In addition, fathers who are supported by their partner participate more in their child’s life.


A father also has the power to alleviate stress on the whole family. Studies show that fathers process stress differently than mother’s do. They can therefore provide a calming effect on the whole family. Their active participation can bring much needed relief to their partner and their child.

Raising a child with or without developmental challenges, is a partnership.  Fathers are an important part of the solution and should be encouraged to interact with their child.  Please join us in our efforts to include fathers in their child’s therapy time and early intervention services. Talk to your CDI therapist for ideas on how to get Dad more involved.


5 Reasons Why Your Toys Are Better Than Ours

One of the questions we get asked regularly is: How come you dont always bring toys with you when you come for an in-home session? Although there are times when it is appropriate for a clinician to bring some tools/toys from our clinic into your home, there are at least 5 good reasons why your toys and resources are often better than ours.

1.  We can show you how to use the resources in your home differentlywooden-car-boy The first session is about getting to know your child, your family, and your resources (e.g. toys available, outdoor equipment, craft supplies, and more). An early interventionist might ask you to show him/her what you have available for your child. To a therapist, the toys and other resources in your home, including other family members, are so much more than meets the eye. They look at each item, or person, as a means to work with your child on skills such as communication, sensory integration, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, trunk control, coordination, focus, regulation. Using your toys and resources allows us to teach you how to look at your environment in a therapeutic way. This is the best approach to help your child. It makes your toolkit more powerful long after our session is over.

2.  Collaboration is the key ingredient
Our approach is collaborative, we therefore want parents to join us and learn how to best help their child to overcome his/her deficits. We realize that, once the session is over, the therapist leaves with the toys he/she brought. If you don’t have the same toys as your clinician, it might be challenging for you to continue an activity that worked well for your child during the session. The goal is for you to be able to continue working with your child after the therapist has left your home. If we use your toys instead of ours, you will be able to repeat the activity on your own and your little one will get the help he/she needs every day.

3.  Its not the amount of toys that makes therapy more effectivebaby-playing-blocks
Some of our most successful sessions have been with no toys at all. There are many ways to tap into a child’s motivation center and maximize therapy. Toys can sometimes distract from the actual goal. A child might benefit more from a wheel barrel race or an improvised obstacle course made from the pillows on your couch. We can use your environment in many ways to help your child. For example, pots and wooden spoons can be turned into a drum set, helping a child work on gross motor skills and coordination. Cotton balls and straws can become an improvised snowball race, giving your child a chance to work on gross motor skills and oral motor skills.

4.  Your home has what you need to help your child
No matter how little or how much you have, your home has exactly what you need to help your child. It has you and other loving family members, and it has the toys or resources you have selected especially for your child. This means that whatever is in your home has more meaning for your little one than anything our clinicians can bring into the session. Your daily routine is rich in opportunities that can be tapped into to help your child communicate, socialize and meet his/her developmental milestones. Our staff is trained to utilize the tools in your natural environment to help you and your child.

5.  The goal of therapy is generalization into your childs daily routine
Generalization, the real goal of early intervention, is the ability to take a skill learned in one environment and apply it to other situations or contexts. The toy bag comes from our clinic, therefore, it distracts from the powerful tools available to your child at all times. If we use our toys, you and your child might have fun with it during the session, but it might not lead to generalization of the skills learned. We don’t want the therapeutic outcomes to be conditional on our toys. Instead, your child’s unique environment, along with his/her family and caregivers, can help him/her reach the very best developmental results. Generalization is facilitated in a child’s natural environment, using tools, toys and resources available to him/her every day.

CDI is always happy to answer any questions you may have regarding Early Intervention and the many therapeutic services we offer (e.g. Speech and Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Child and Family Mental Health, Developmental Support, and Therapeutic Groups). Our mission is to help all children reach their full potential by supporting the relationships and environments that shape early development. We see clients in our clinic, the community and in their homes. We look forward to helping your child reach his/her developmental milestones.


Why Handwriting Matters

Handwriting plays an essential role in a child’s developmental and educational growth. And yet, many schools are no longer teaching this fundamental skill to our children. Researchers point out that handwriting seems to strengthen brain processing, reading abilities, memory recall, and learning. Studies show that keyboarding and printing do not provide the same benefits. With all the focus on technology nowadays, it is even more important to ensure that kids acquire all the skills they need to successfully learn cursive writing.


There are many benefits to handwriting. The latest studies show that cursive writing helps the brain wire more efficiently than keyboarding and printing. Students who handwrite their notes show more efficient memory recall, are better readers as well as learners, and show improved motor control.  Writing cursive works on the following skills: postural control, visual-motor coordination, fine and gross motor control, decoding, and sensory processing—just to name a few. Although it may seem easier to give a child a keyboard instead of teaching them cursive, if he has issues with handwriting it is very likely that he will also have deficits in his ability to learn, read and communicate. Handwriting difficulties are closely linked to learning disabilities. Some experts worry that if we don’t teach students handwriting, we will miss the opportunity to identify the underlining deficits they may have.

Occupational therapists evaluate each child for fine and gross motor skill, visual deficits, postural control and developmental delays that may affect a child’s ability to learn handwriting. Good handwriting starts with a child’s ability to sit functionally at a desk. If a student cannot achieve the proper posture, he will not be able to control his motor skills to perform fine motor tasks. His trunk strength is what allows him to sit upright for an extended period of time. Shoulder stability is also essential. Children who have poor shoulder control cannot perform fine motor movements. In addition, the child needs to see clearly as well as interpret what he sees. Occupational therapists will look at eye movement, visual motor coordination, depth perception, visual perception and then assess if vision is impeding learning. Finally, occupational therapists are trained to analyze fine motor skills, handwriting grips and finger dexterity to help a child achieve a more functional writing technique. They use fun sensory activities to help children master the foundational skills needed to learn handwriting.

CDI is happy to offer handwriting classes. Handwriting Without Tears is a multi-sensory program that makes learning cursive fun and easy. This hands-on approach uses a variety of teaching strategies to fit the unique learning style of each student. Children learn through playful activities, movement, tactile and auditory input, and object manipulation. It takes the anxiety out of mastering a new skill and meets each child where he is at. CDI’s occupational therapists are not only trained to teach this effective method, but they can also help assess your child for any underlining developmental issues that may affect his learning progress. Click here for additional information on CDI’s handwriting class schedules. 


Cooking with your child, tips from an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapy adapts well to a natural environment. Many of our activities sneak in therapeutic work into fun and functional projects. Parents can help their children by making time at home to work on some of the same developmental skills.

The kitchen is a great place to experience the world. It’s not only rich in sensory input but it offers many opportunities to work on motor skills and problem solving skills as well. Here are some fun activities you can do at at home with your child and some muffin batter:

*  Mix the Batter:  This sounds simple but it becomes a different experience when you have your child use first his/her dominant hand to hold the spoon, then his or her non-dominant hand, and then both hands. Have him or her try to figure out how he could mix the batter by rotating the bowl instead of using a spoon. Then have him or her mix the batter by shaking it in a jar or plastic container. There are so many possibilities, your child can help you come up with other unusual ways to mix the batter.

What is he/she working on?  Increasing brain wiring and motor fluency, bilateral upper body movement, grading of movement, wrist rotation, problem solving skills, and following directions.

*  Pour the Batter:  Give your child a 1/4 cup measurer. Have him or her pour the batter into each pre-oiled muffin cup.

What is he/she working on?  Visual motor coordination, grading of movement, wrist rotation, visual texture tolerance (some kids have an aversion to wet textures)

*  Blow Bubbles in the Batter:  Use plain batter for this activity. Make sure your child can follow directions, especially if the batter contains raw eggs. He/She should be able to blow without sucking through the straw. Just to be safe you can use a vegan recipe or no egg recipe. Add a little bit of extra liquid to make it easier or use less liquid to make it harder. It should be “a just right challenge” for your child. He/She should feel like it’s fun, not frustrating. Pour a little bit of batter in a large cup or a bowl. Get a few large straws and have a bubble blowing contest with your little one. You can also play his/her favorite song and every time he/she hears a certain word in the song he/she has to blow a big bubble.

What is he/she working on?  Oral motor skills, following directions, auditory-motor skills (being able to connect a sound or word recognition with movement)

*  Turkey Baster Batter:  This is an usual way to fill your muffin tins. Have your child use a turkey baster to fill each muffin cup with the batter (this will only work with plain batter, no chocolate chips or blueberries). If necessary, add a little bit of extra liquid to make it easier. Teach him or her to hold the pinch on the bulb until the baster is over the right cup and then release. Work on counting cups, he/she has to get the batter to whatever number you call out. Play a game of right, left, down, up by directing him to your chosen cup. This works nicely for a child who is just starting to recognize his left from right. If you want to adapt it for a child who is still learning, put a sticker on his or her right hand, this way he will get to practice this skill without frustration. Offer as much assistance as needed to keep the activity fun for your child.

What is he/she working on?

  • Hand strength
  • Motor coordination
  • Eye-hand co-ordination
  • Following directions Math concepts
  • Spatial recognition
  • Left-right differentiation

We hope you enjoy trying some of those activities with your children. CDI therapists can provide you with developmentally appropriate activities that can easily be adapted in the home.


Why They Look Away: Gaze Aversion in Autism

One of the markers of autism is a person’s aversion to eye contact.  The eyes are an important barometer of emotion when we interact with others. The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D. and Sharon Begley touches on the subject. Researchers believe that this seemingly anti-social behavior is rooted in complex brain processes, the misinterpretation of visual cues and functional coping mechanisms.

People on spectrum have described looking into someone’s eyes as a terrifying experience. Davidson and his team have conducted fMRI studies to discover the inner working of the brain of subjects while processing visual cues. It turns out that the amygdala (fear and anxiety center of the brain) is bigger in children with autism. He states in his book that: “The fact that amygdala activity is elevated when autistic children look at faces—even for a few fractions of a second, as in this experiment—suggests that doing so makes them profoundly uncomfortable, even fearful, and that when they look into someone’s eyes their brains and bodies are flooded with messages that they interpret as threatening. Only by looking away can they stop this onslaught.”He also points to the fact that when the subject looks away, then the amygdala activity decreases. What we interpret as an anti-social behavior is really a calming strategy that has been reinforced over time.

There’s a strong heredity factor in autism. Often entire families are studied to help understand this complex disorder. One study looked at eye tracking in the siblings of children with autism, who themselves were not on the spectrum. Interestingly enough, these children showed abnormal tracking patterns as well.  Even though they did not avert their gaze, fMRI revealed that their amygdala activity was heightened when they looked at faces. Normally developing children do not show the same abnormal eye tracking patterns and amygdala response. This points to a wide range of function when it comes to social interaction competency. Richard Davidson points out that in the population at large there are people who avert their gaze when dealing with others and yet don’t fall on the spectrum. They might be called socially phobic or shy instead.

Gaze aversion is not always used to avoid unpleasant fear-inducing stimuli. Another study from Northumbria University, showed that children on the autism spectrum also use gaze aversion as a means to think and analyze material. In fact, this strategy is used by all people as a tool to retrieve memories. This actually makes our answers more accurate. Professor Doherty-Sneddon, who conducted this study, says that: “Although social skills training is important in encouraging eye contact with children with autism, this research demonstrates that gaze aversion, at a certain point within an interaction, is functional in helping them to concentrate on difficult tasks.”

All this information is a good reminder, that when we (parents, caregivers, therapists and teachers) work with kids to help normalize their social interactions, we need to be aware of the role that gaze aversion might play for a child in that moment. Some children use it as a coping strategy for dealing with an overwhelming stimuli or as a functional strategy to process and retrieve information. Any treatment approach, therefore, should respect where the child is at developmentally.

Floortime Developmental Individual Difference Relationship-based model (DIR) is an excellent approach to increasing communication and social interactions. This model of therapy not only meets the child where he is at developmentally but also works with the child’s emotions and motivations to achieve better communication as well as social interaction. For more information on how Floortime DIR can help your child improve his/her social interactions, please contact the Child Development Institute.


The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way you Think, Feel and Live—and How You Can Change Them By Richard J Davidson, Ph.D. and Sharon Begley


Rethinking The Use Of Technology For Our Children

 Technology is all around us. Children are taught at a young age to use devices for entertainment, education, boredom, and regulation. Opinions are divided on whether the use of iPads or cell phones is an acceptable form of reward or break-time for all children, especially the ones with developmental delays. Hand held devices, such as iPads and cell phones, make it especially challenging to regulate usage. In order to understand the issue these devices create, one must look at the effects they can have a child’s brain.screen

Children respond to video games in part because of the reward center in their brain. The receptors get hit with dopamine (a feel good neurotransmitter) every time they graduate to a new level or earn an achievement. Children with disabilities are especially likely to seek out this type of “reward”, because their natural dopamine/reward system can be sluggish. In other words, they need the increase in neural activity created by the video game in order to feel good. Although they look like they are concentrating when they are playing, it is not attention in the classical sense of the term because there’s a constant reward mechanism at work during play. Take it away, and you often have a melt-down. If the child cannot progress through the game and collect achievements, this also results in frustration and tantrums. He is dependent on the video game activity in order to feel good. The lack of dopamine during non-play time makes it harder to focus and function during other necessary activities. Some experts qualify such behavior as a sign of addiction.

Many children nowadays do not know how to self-regulate without technology. If they are bored, the first thing they reach for is an iPad or cell phone. We adults are the same: texting, or checking emails and the news. But an adult’s brain wiring is well established and a child’s is still developing.

Kids see us and they mimic us. Children learn through observations and experiences. Boredom teaches kids how to be resourceful, creative and self-sufficient. Kids with development delays need to make the brain connections necessary to thrive and progress through their milestones. Healthy brain wiring is built through social interactions, meeting challenges, physical movement, exploration, and trial and error.

In addition to the issues discussed above, multiple studies shed additional light on how electronic devices affect the brain:

    • Early television viewing directly contributes to attentional deficits in children.
    • Data shows that children’s executive functioning (ability to plan, analyze, strategize, and exert self-control) suffers with exposure to fast-paced visuals.
    • Many children on the autism spectrum have an increased risk of seizures when viewing fast paced visuals, such as the ones in video games.
    • Lights from screen devices have a negative impact on the sleep cycle, especially within 3 hours of bed time.
    • Experts found that children with autism and ADHD are more likely to become obsessive and to show patterns of addiction when it comes to video games.


So what does that mean for our kiddos? Should parents ban handheld devices for their children, especially if they have developmental delays? Experts now agree that any child under the age of two should not have screen time. Disagreement does exist, however, when it comes to whether or not parents should use these hand-held devices as a reward or break-time tool for older kids. Since children on the spectrum or with ADHD can easily get addicted to video game playing, it seems wise to limit the use of smart phones or iPads as a reward system. Social interactions, trips to the park, or playing a two person non-technology related game can be used instead. It is true that many apps have been created to increase education and speech communication in children with learning and speech delays. These can be helpful if closely monitored and used in conjunction with a caregiver, a parent or teacher. However, they should not be used to replace social interaction—an already challenging task for many children with developmental delays.


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Sensory Issues and Summer

Summer is upon us, children are out of school and parents are looking for activities to keep their little ones entertained. Thankfully the Los Angeles area offers many opportunities for some wonderful sensory experiences to be enjoyed by the whole family. A beach day is a classic summer activity, but kiddos with sensory issues can get overwhelmed by the texture of the sand on their skin, the sound of the waves and even the salty ocean smell. Here are some summer activity ideas and strategies to ensure a fun time in the sun:


Small changes in the environment can go a long way toward helping children with sensory issues have a good time. When a beach day is what you want, a boardwalk or a park by the water can offer a nice compromise. If a child can keep his shoes on, walk on solid ground instead of the sand, climb play equipment instead of making sandcastles, and even sit on a bench in a shady area for some much needed quiet time, he is more likely to stay in balance.

Remember that the proprioceptive system (sensory receptors in your joints that send information to the brain) is an incredible emotional and sensory regulator. All the pulling and pushing that happens when a child climbs on playground equipment helps to keep him emotionally regulated.

But what if your child is sensitive to the pungent ocean breeze? An easy solution is to have him carry a favorite cloth with a few drops of soothing essential oil (e.g. lavender or orange). This way, whenever he is overwhelmed by the strong smell of the air, he can smell the preferred fragrance instead.

Finally, keep in mind that your child will do better if you time your family’s trip to the beach according to his natural rhythm. The nervous system becomes more reactive when we’re tired. If your child has more energy in the mornings but fades in the afternoons, try to plan a breakfast or a brunch picnic by the water. The whole family will have a fabulous time.

Here’s a list of our favorite parks and boardwalks by the water:

A nice boardwalk for the whole family to enjoy a stroll:
Zuma Beach
30050 Pacific Coast Hwy
Malibu, CA 90265

A great place for a picnic, to climb, run around, use the zip-line and more:
Marina Park
Pierpont Ave
Ventura, CA 93001

A wonderful way to enjoy the beach by the pool, offers great amenities:
Annenberg Community Beach House
415 Pacific Coast Hwy
Santa Monica, CA 90402

Wondering what else you can do? Here are some other wonderful sensory rich activities in our area:

To cool off and have fun, take your kiddos to play in an interactive fountain:
Arthur J Will Memorial Fountain
210 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, Ca 90012

For a sensory feast, the whole family will enjoy a local farmer’s market:

Introduce your children to where their food comes from, take them to a U-pick farm for strawberries and other wonderful treats:
McGraw Family Farm
1012 West Ventura Blvd

Underwood Family Farms
3370 Sunset Valley Rd

More tips to help ensure a wonderful time:

    • Bring a sensory community kit (a collection of items and toys that your child finds soothing).
    • Bring plenty of drinks and food (thirst and hunger can make anyone dysregulate).
    • Bring sun hats, sunscreen and umbrellas for shade (too much sun exposure can be draining).
    • Bring a change of clothing for your child (children with tactile sensitivities get overwhelmed when their clothes are wet).
    • Bring a set of headphones with your child’s favorite music (it will help tune out the noise from other people or the crashing waves).
    • Prepare your child for what he can expect during this outing, get him involved in making a plan  to help cope with unpleasant stimuli.
    • Do some activities prior to the outing to help him experience some of the sensations he might encounter during your outing.
    • Learn to read your child’s cues; children with sensory issues can get overwhelmed fast.

Summer is a special time for parents and children to have fun and make memories together. Parents have the difficult task of respecting their child’s limits while still providing opportunities to explore and experience the world. This can be challenging—a lot of it is trial and error but remember that you are the expert on your child. The more you can just live in the moment and go with the flow, the more you will enjoy this special time with your child.


Social Skills – Sharing Toys

Sharing Social Skills Tip of the Day – Sharing Toys
 – Megan Lange, MA, ED, CDI Theraputic Group Specialist

Bring sand toys, bubbles, cars, dinosaurs, a ball etc. to the park with you and your child. 

– Tell your child ahead of time that the toys are to share with other children at the park. Other children will naturally be drawn to your child if he/she is playing with something interesting. 

– Stay close enough to help facilitate sharing and bridging play themes between your child and others. 

two-boy-playingTry to help come up with a common goal for the kids if necessary. 
                     – Ex: “Do you think the dinosaurs would like to climb on a giant volcano?  Let’s see if we could build one all together.” 

– Help translate your child and other children’s intentions to each other if communication breakdowns arise.

CDI now has openings in the Under 3 Social Skills Group, Wednesdays 9:30am – 11am, click here for more info!

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