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.


						 Read more... 

Mindfulness for Children

Mindfulness practice is a way to deal with stressors, increase emotional regulation, and achieve inner balance.  Most articles about meditation in the news focus on how this simple activity can help adults feel more centered, but mindfulness should be taught to our children as well.

You can think of Mindfulness as a way to observe our inner selves and the sensory world around us. Our kids are very scheduled and many demands are put upon them. Mindfulness can give them the ability to take a step back and enjoy the moment. It strengthens creativity, thought processes and emotional regulation. It is a powerful skill that once taught will be a part of their coping toolkit for life.

Keep in mind that the best way to teach mindfulness to children is for parents and caregivers to model it. Sharing the world in a sensory way (e.g. what you see, smell, hear, touch, and taste) with your child will go a long way to make him/her an observer of feelings and sensations—a great first step to being mindful and to healthy emotional regulation. Here are some other simple and child friendly meditation scripts to get started:
Breathing exercise:

    • Sit comfortably, close your eyes. Imagine your tummy is a balloon. Inhale through your nose and inflate the balloon. Exhale through your mouth and deflate the balloon.

    • Repeat this activity daily and try to increase the duration every time.

    • Some children find it helpful to have a stuffed animal placed on their tummy, this way they can see it go up when they inhale and going down when they exhale.

Happy Place:

    • Make sure your child is comfortable, laying down on a bed, floor or beanbag. Read the prompts slowly allowing for the thought process to take place.

    • Close your eyes and think of a place that makes you truly calm and happy. What is it? Where is it? Can you see it in your mind? Are there other people? Who are they? Can you describe them? Take your time, look around taking in all the details of your happy place. Do you hear sounds in your happy place? What type of sounds? Are there voices? Take your time and listen to the sounds all around you. Are there smells you recognize in your place? What does it smell like? If you move around, are you walking? Are you running? How does your body move there? Does it float around effortlessly? Are you flying? How do you feel moving around this place of yours? Take your time and explore this calming place of yours and enjoy the feelings it gives you.

    • As a follow up activity have them draw a picture of their happy place.


For additional articles and ideas on this subject, check out the following resources:





Screen Time Affects Your Child’s Development


A new poll out of the University of Michigan shows that about 25% of parents let their young children have 3 hours or more of screen time per day. This news is disconcerting given that experts agree that children over the age of 2 should get no more than 2 hours per day, and less is preferable. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes that children under the age of 2 should not spend any time in front of a screen. Screen time is not only encroaching on other more developmentally appropriate activities, it also affects a child’s emotional and neurological development.

Smartphones and tablets are making it challenging for parents to monitor and control the amount of time their child spends in front of a screen. A Child’s role, starting

in infancy, is to explore and share his world. Television and computer games unfortunately interfere with this natural process. Hours that should be spent looking at plants, people, exploring smells, tastes, textures, nature and playing within the community are instead spent shutting the world out. Screen time provides one way communication, reducing the opportunities for the child to challenge himself and communicate with his caregivers.

Screen time also affects the nervous system negatively. Studies have shown that the exposure to the light coming off of the screens disrupts the natural sleep cycles of our bodies, and children are especially vulnerable. It also can overload the sensory system and make children moody, impulsive and plain tired. Findings also point towards changes in brain structures due to excessive exposure to television and video games.

According to the AAP, children under the age of two should not be given screen time as a form of entertainment, and this type of activity should be strictly restricted in children above the age of two as well. Instead, consider these fun activities to share with your child:

      • Reading books together
      • Touching new textures (soft fabrics, rough fabrics, grass, flowers…)
      • Cooking together (a child can help pour or mix)
      • Coloring or painting together
      • Gardening together
      • Pretend play
      • Playing “I spy” or “20 questions” (with older kids)
      • Playing at the park
      • Beading
      • Playdough
      • In public areas, such as restaurants and stores, teach your child to people watch. Talk with him/her about what you see together.
      • You can also keep his/her little hands busy by playing interactive games such as Pat-a-Cake or Itsy-Bitsy Spider.
      • Here’s a link to some other famous interactive nursery rhymes you can try:


Parents play a key role in helping their children connect to people in their world. Screen-time interferes with language, brain and emotional development. Parents can start by setting an example, they can reduce their own use of computers/tablets, T.V. as well as smartphones. Applying little changes in a child’s routine, such as reading together at the end of the day instead of watching T.V., or having your child help make dinner instead of having him watch a show while you cook for the family, can help promote active versus passive entertainment. Positive forms of entertainment promote two-way communication skills, observation skills, as well as develop his interest in the world around him. Any activities you can do together helps grow your child into a well-centered and emotionally connected individual.



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.


Total Communication – How Will Your Child Learn To Communicate?

Communication begins with relationships.  It is through back and forth social interactions that we all learn to communicate in a meaningful manner.  So what do we do when a child isn’t learning to communicate in the typical manner?  Typical intervention starts with speech therapy.  It is an outdated belief system, however, that a child needs to be “ready” for speech therapy.  Most experts working with children with communication delays/disorders support the Total Communication approach.

Total Communication is a holistic view of communication that can be used with infants and adults. It involves not only oral language to build communication skills, but introduces gestures, sign language, and other visual communication systems.  Speech therapists using this approach think “outside the box” to create a system of communication that works for each individual.   For example, when working with a one-year-old, a speech therapist may coach the parents to play babbling games to encourage back and forth mimicking of sounds.  For a two-year-old who is not yet using words, the speech therapist may introduce sign language to help pair verbal words with signs to improve communication.  If a child is showing more extreme difficulty with verbal communication, then a speech therapist may introduce using a letter board or augmentative device, so the child can type his/her communication.  Many children and adults with Autism have shared a deep expressive world through the use of a keyboard or letter board. See or the film, Wretches & Jabberers.


Some parents are concerned that using sign language or pictures and letter boards may impede a child’s oral communication skills. Research supports that teaching speech and other modalities of communication together will increase the likelihood that the child will speak.  This is because talking or using sign language actually activates the same area of the brain responsible for communication.  There is no evidence to support that using other methods of communication, such as sign language, will discourage the use of speech.

Ultimately, the goal is for a child to communicate with others and the world.  It starts with gestures and moves to voice, the child’s “voice” can be expressed in many different ways.  It’s important that parents and professionals know that using a Total Communication approach is the most widely accepted speech and language treatment model.  It is our responsibility to ensure that all children have the tools needed to express themselves effectively.


CDI’s Mother’s Day Tea

On Tuesday May 6th, CDI hosted a Mother’s Day Tea to honor CDI moms from the past and the present.  The mothers spent the afternoon in the ELC’s zoo garden, sharing their experiences of motherhood while enjoying a variety of teas and pastries.  Executive Director, Joan Maltese shared with the group about the staggering cuts that have been made to early intervention over the last 5 years and the need to come together, advocate for our children, and remember the value of social emotional development.Mother's Tea 1

Two CDI moms presented thoughtful and emotional speeches that they shared with the other mothers.  Isabel Zepeda gave a beautiful talk about the journey every mom faces, the power of early intervention and to never give up hope, “it’s hope that keeps us fueled up for the road ahead.” Isabel also gave a special Mother’s Day greeting, “You are doing a great job moms. Please take a little downtime to take care of yourself.”

Another long term CDI mom, Chris Molaro outlined her recommendations to help new moms stay strong, get the right services and never give up hope.  Chris described 5 lessons gained from experiences that have helped her continue on the path.

Lesson One:  Trust your instincts. You know your child better than anyone.

Lesson Two: Sooner is better when it comes to intervention, but it’s never too late, and intervention doesn’t stop when the session is over.

Lesson Three:  Choose your battles wisely, but DO advocate for your kid.  And if you can, advocate for others.  What you do helps others who follow in your path.  If you can’t advocate for yourself, find someone who can.

Lesson Four:  You are not alone.  Find support from other parents in whatever way feels comfortable to you.

Lesson Five:  Even in the worst of moments, take a breath.  Tomorrow is another day.  Remember the big picture.  Autism is not a static diagnosis.  It is a journey that you are taking with your child as they work their way along the spectrum.

Mother's Tea 2As a final note Chris said, “Know that you are in the best possible place for you and for your child.Because none of Matthew’s success would be possible without all the caring, professional, knowledgeable, hardworking and dedicated people from CDI.  I have learned so much from them, even as they were teaching and working with my son. They have changed my son’s life.  They have changed my life. We are forever grateful. Thank you CDI and thank you for listening to Matt’s story.”

Both of these speakers along with other powerful statements shared by CDI moms brought tears to the eyes of many mothers who share this journey.  The mothers left the tea party feeling connected and supported by the experiences and relationships they have made at CDI and inspired to support new mothers as they begin their own journey.

For more information on finding support and advocating for children, please contact Tessa Graham .


Sensory Strategies for Parent

Since OT Awareness Month is almost over, we thought it would be fun to share some OT sensory strategies for parents to enjoy! 

The best way to address your sensory needs as a parent is to:

1. Take an inventory of what activities you find soothing, energizing and regulating. For some parents, taking a bubble bath is relaxing and enjoyable, for others running outside is the most satisfying.

2. Survey your environment – Some adults are aware that noisy environments are draining to their nervous system, while others get energized at parties or concerts.

3. Account for all your senses – smell, visual, sounds, taste, vestibular (motion that affects your knowledge of where your body is in space), proprioception (receptors that let your brain know how much pressure or pulling your joints feel). For example, people who run for regulation are using all their senses during that activity except for taste.

Living SensationallyOnce you have an inventory of the best sensory activities, use it as a go to list for when you need some “me” time. It should help you feel more centered. Here are some of our favorite activities:

  • Listening to music (auditory)
  • Touching Velcro or other soothing textures (tactile)
  • Wrapping ourselves in a heavy comforter (tactile and proprioceptive)
  • Exercising (proprioceptive and vestibular)
  • Playing with clay (visual, tactile and proprioceptive)
  • Painting (visual, tactile and proprioceptive)
  • Cooking (Proprioceptive, visual, scent, tactile and taste)
  • Walking on the beach or at a park (proprioceptive, visual, auditory and scent)

For more on this subject, check Winnie Dunn’s book, Living Sensationally Understanding Your Senses.


This week in Gardening Club: Time Change: Thursday!

Dear Gardening Club,

180px-Verbena_lilacina_03 It doesn’t seem that April is bringing any showers, however, the native flowers are blooming in the Topanga canyons.  As California continues along this drought, I encourage you to look at Theodore Payne for native flowers for your garden.  One of my favorites is the Lilac Verbena (, which has amazed me, as I have watered it about 3-4 times in the 5 months that I’ve had it and it continues to put out blooms.  This is in comparison with the fairy duster(, which, although alive, continues to look like a stick stuck in the ground.180px-Calliandra_californica1

Another reason to plant native flowers and bushes is that I strive towards the “lazy gardening” method (I’m still struggling with my inner OCD) and these plants are suited for our environment.  This means they don’t need careful mulching, watering, adding of nutrients, adjusting the pH, disease management–you can stick them into the ground and forget about them.  I tend to balance edible high-maintenance crops (since I can tend to them while I am harvesting) with California natives for landscaping (plants that I tend to every few months).

This week is the topic of GMO.  This topic is *not* sanctioned by the UC Master Gardeners, so nothing I say will be endorsed by them. They’re quite smart to stay in the sidelines, but I feel that there are certain basic facts which would be useful for us to know as we navigate the quagmire known as the internet, especially as parents. It’s always good to have a framework that you can later fill in the details.

See you this Thursday (THURSDAY) at Garden Club.  9:30AM as usual!



This Week in Garden Club: Field Trips to Underwood Family Farms

Happy Passover and Easter (and other Spring occasions!)

Summer time feels like it is in full swing, the birds are singing, the monarch caterpillars are hatching out, and of course, the strangely mythical Easter bunny has littered the ground with plastic eggs.

This week is spring break for us, and I’d like to take the opportunity to invite you to general playdates with us at either the morning events (below).  I apologize for sending this email out a bit late for you advanced planners, but if you have a free spot, this week is the optimal week to see Underwood farms before the heat overwhelms everyone.

signatmoorparkTuesday (today): Underwood farms Moorpark (

This is the larger of the Underwood farms, and they are having an Easter special, which can turn pricey, but there are a lot of free entertainment at the park.  You can pick your own strawberries here as well.

Thursday (April 17th): Underwood Farms Somis (

This is a further drive, but their blueberry bushes are netted and we had a lot of fun last year.  It’s right next to the strawberry patch and I usually turn a blind eye during this day towards fruits eaten right off the bush and ground.

Neither farms are certified organic, but they use the minimum of pesticides (usually none) only when there is a real threat.   They use an integrated pest management which includes composting and keeping the crops in the optimal health (since bugs/disease attack the sickly plants first) that you can read more about in:

Friday we will have our usual Garden Club!  This week’s topic will be integrated pest management.  This is just a fancy word for: how to get rid of bugs using a variety of things before resorting to chemical sprays.  Right now you will have noticed a few aphids popping out and maybe a swarm of whiteflies hovering over, but nipping things at the bud will save Hornworm3you time and headaches in the future.  And since it is so close to Easter, we can have a reverse egg hunt, where we’ll give you an egg, you can fill it up with a little bit of wheatgrass seeds and and soil.   Take them home to germinate some bunny food, and then in a week you should have an egg-full of edible wheatgrass that you can nibble on.

Wendy found a great deal on groupon a family admission to the LA County Arboetum in Arcadia.  We’re sadly not getting it because it’s too far from us, but if you are interested, you should collaborate to see if one of you can get it for free!

This week’s events:

This Tuesday, April 15: 10AM Moorpark Underwood Farms–Easter festivities.  Bring sun protection and cool water.

This Thursday, April 18: 10AM Somis Underwood Farms–Blueberry picking.  Bring sun protection and cool water and a basket (they have little plastic containers, but those are difficult for little hands).

This Friday, April 19 : Garden Club CDI

Next week Garden club will move to Thursday, April 24th.  I’ll remind you in my email next week, but here is advance warning!



This week in Garden Club: What is a weed?

Dear Garden Club!

April is a magic time, the height of spring!  Even in our drought year, flowers are blooming and the weather is sWeed 2 till mild enough to get out and take a walk around an old neighborhood, visit botanical gardens, or enjoy wildflowers in their moment of greatest glory. Take along your phone to get ideas for your garden (or ours!)

April is our second spring-planting month, but is less demanding than the first.  If you did most of your spring planting in March, relax now and enjoy the fruits of your labor. If not, there’s still time to catch up on jobs that went undone.

It’s warm enough to sprout seeds quickly but not hot enough to scorch seedlings.  Do you know what this means?  Of course, weeds!

Which brings us to a very interesting question: what is a weed?

Weed 1I’ll leave you to think about this, but it may be a great question to ask your children.  Often, they give quite insightful answers. 🙂  We’ll examine some common weeds from the garden, and talk about what it is that makes them a weed.  We’ll also discuss the concept of seed dormancy, and how it is possible to spend an entire afternoon weeding a patch of ground only to have it flush with new weeds the next week.  (It may also give you some clues as to why some of your wildflower bombs have not sprouted).

See you in Gardening club this Friday.


  • Child Development Institute

  • Early Learning Center

  • All Rights Reserved.
    Site proudly powered by six6one