Routine, routine, routine
Routine is GOD in our house. It's how we keep Jake on track, and how we kept him calm when he was younger. A routine provides the consistency and security that kids with sensory issues and/or DCD need, and whenever we strayed from it Jake was quick to let us know we messed up. Find a routine that works for you and stick to it-you may notice a difference.
Also, since kids with sensory issues don't often feel the signals that their bodies are sending them (ie fatigue, hunger, thirst), it's important to have a set time that you get them to eat, take a break, go to bed. Hunger, illness, thirst, and being tired are sure fire ways to create a meltdown. Even today we still have to remind Jake to eat breakfast and/or lunch and if we don't, he'll forget until it's 4:45 pm and he's starving.
Prep work and warnings
When Jake was little, he needed prep for everything. a) how long we'd be there b) what we'll do when we're there c) what we'll do after. I would give him a really short explanation of what to expect and always have an out just in case.
IE- We're running errands-the doctor's office, the library, and a store.
"First, doctor's office. You can read or play with your (sensory item). Then the library. You can sign out 2 books. Last, the store. It's a quick stop-I'm just getting milk."
If there is a change, even as small as me changing the order, I let him know ahead of time. Now that he's older, he knows what to expect and I don't have to explain as much. I do however let him know what we're doing, the order, and if it's a lot of errands/shopping we have a break in between (like yesterday we grabbed a treat at Starbucks). Sometimes I let him choose the order-it gives him a sense of control. However, with little sense of time or his own limits, Jake likes to "add on" more then he can handle. I will give him very specific parameters ("choose ONE place to go today.")
Keep the directions short and sweet
Forget the wordy directions. Small eyes glaze over and all they hear is the beginning and then end, or misinterpret what you've said. Keep it very short, sweet, and to the point.
ie: "please go get your shoes on, and your coat, then get in the car because we're leaving to go to the store soon and I want to get going." Pick what is MOST important, and don't give any more then three.
Instead: "Jake, look at me." Fingers up-because I'm giving him three directions, and so I hold up one finger as I give them. "First," finger 1 up "SHOES. Then," (finger 2 up) " COAT. Then," (finger 3 up) "GO."
If he forgets part way through, I'd look at him and hold up the fingers. "What comes next?" First, it's a visual cue. Secondly, it reduces nagging. Which we ALL want. We still do this today.
(**this is especially useful at school because it reduces teacher nagging, which in turn causes peers to see the child in a negative light)
Cleaning their Room
-Part of DCD is that kids really have a hard time breaking down a task and figuring out where to start. A room that looks like a tornado hit it is just too overwhelming. We have tried the following, all with varying degrees of success.
-bins for all the toys; each labeled with a picture of what is inside
-a 'how to' list... 1. make bed 2. put away laundry 3. pick up books
-a picture of what the room should look like when it's done
-a quick 'tidy' every day so that it doesn't get to be a big mess
-I do a deep clean every 6 months or so
**learn to close the door and leave it unless it's unhealthy.
-daily to do lists (very short and sweet) have worked wonders in our house. (eg. 1. Breakfast 2. Brush teeth 3. Get dressed 4. Make Bed) If he forgets or becomes off task, refer him to the list.
-DCD may also affect their ability to maneuverer things like blankets when making beds, hanging up of folding clothes, and putting dishes in a dishwasher.
-keep blankets on the bed to a minimum-or, you do the sheets, the child puts the blanket on.
-give them their laundry pre-folded or already put on hangers
-directly teach where the dishes go in the dishwasher (Jake is still having trouble figuring out how to move things around so a dish will fit)
-a place mat with the outline of the dishes is good for teaching how to set a table
-use a list or pictures to show the sequence of how a chore is done until it's mastered
**Choose ONE thing at a time to work on and focus on that until it's mastered. Praise all efforts!
-There are springy laces on the market that don't require tying, you can pre-tie the laces so the shoes can pretty much be slipped on, there are even rubber coated laces that aren't supposed to come undone.
Or you can just buy Velcro, which in the younger grades is heaven. However we're looking into those rubber coated laces because Velcro is just not cool in grade 7.
**again, another alternative is to just buy lots of extra laces and overlook the fact that shoes are untied. Some things are best to just let go of.
Being Organized for School
-Have a back to school box at the front door. In it goes all library books, the child's backpack, and anything that needs to go to school. If it needs to go to school, it goes in the box. It eliminates searching for things and the child learns to pack their own backpack. Plus, eventually they don't need the box but just put things by the door automatically because it's a learned skill.
-we have a week at a glance printout on the fridge. On it are all of Jake's assignments, hot lunch days, etc so that he can look at it in the morning and know what's coming. For younger children you can use pictures, calendar stickers, or Boardmaker pics. Visual schedules help to eliminate the anxiety for when a child is asking when an event is happening, can't remember when an assignment is due, etc.
-when there are big assignments, we break down the assignment into chunks and write on the calendar what chunk we'll work on that day. Doing so prevents Jake from forgetting and leaving everything to the very last minute.
-mapping: some kids with DCD not only have difficulty writing, but with the spatial skills that are required for mapping. Throw in coloring on top of it and you've got a problem. Try getting some self stick labels, and write the names of the cities/countries/etc on them. Cut to size. Give them to the child to stick on the paper in the appropriate place.
-writing: when they're young and not showing an interest in writing, try enticing them with all sorts of different materials. Make it an art activity. Use sidewalk chalk, thick felts, dry erase boards, bathtub crayons, glitter pens, anything that gets them interested. Even a cookie sheet with salt in it will help. Practice making lines and shapes. Make letters with play dough, finger paint, cookie dough, or even an 'alphabet book'. I pasted a letter of the alphabet on each page and then we filled them pages with magazine cut outs of things that started with that letter. The cutting alone was great for his fine motor. Can't cut? Get them to rip the pages out, you cut. Pencil grips help some kids-there are different kinds on the market, try some out to see what works best for your child.
The Sensible Pencil is a great program that has a little saying for each letter, and if used when kids are young, it really helps them learn. If the child isn't learning their alphabet, have them trace the letter with their finger on the table, trace it on your back, all the while saying the Sensible Pencil's ditty. (for example...the letter P would be "down, up, and around.") I have used the program at work with a great deal of success.
In older grades, when more writing is required, Jake has tried voice to text software such as Dragon Naturally Speaking. This hasn't been totally successful yet because of the time and training involved, but with the new version we're hoping that it will be more accurate and less cumbersome. To date, Jake has mostly had someone scribe for him or used a tape recorder. We are also looking into digital voice recorders that have voice to text capability. For older kids who have the patience, Dragon Naturally Speaking is an amazing program that my husband uses in his workplace daily for his own paperwork and quite literally he couldn't do his job without it.
-taking notes: Ditto paper (the kind with carbon in it so that there's 2 copies) comes in handy, with a student who takes great notes doing the notes and giving the child with DCD the second copy. Or, at the end of the note taking time, a student's notes could be photocopied. (caution: the DCD child should never be made to feel that this is a 'favor' and that they should be 'grateful' that the other student is willing to share with them. A deaf child has a right to an interpreter, so a child with DCD should have a right to information that they cannot write down)
-writing essays: We break down the essay into chunks of the introduction, paragraph 1, paragraph 2, paragraph 3, and then conclusion. Jake gets a blank card for each chunk and I scribe his brainstorming ideas/notes just using key words/phrases, one at a time. Once the cards are full, he goes through one at a time and dictates what he wants to 'write in sentences'. I read back to him for clarification and for him to hear what he's said and make corrections. Then he proofreads the finished product. This really helps keep him organized, makes the task not so overwhelming, and keeps him focussed. He actually gets a lot MORE done this way-it's amazing!
-reading: Some kids are really visual. Jake learned to read purely by sight and I unknowingly helped that along by making a word wall on the fridge when he was 2. I cut pictures of every day things out, pasted them on cue cards, wrote the word, and attached them to the fridge. Some made sentences and we'd leave messages for each other. Pretty soon he didn't need the pictures anymore. You can purchase magnetic words and have fun making notes to family members.
-math: Math at our house is all about fun. Card games like UNO, go fish, etc are fantastic. Jake had a very hard time learning how to play board games, however, and Skip Bo was near impossible. Count, have lemonade stands or play store to teach money, bake together to teach measuring, and build things. For younger kids try filling plastic easter eggs with items, hide them, and go on a scavenger hunt-counting the things inside.
-art: This didn't come up with Jake until the older grades, where the spatial and fine motor requirements for some of the assignments made them really difficult. Find out what your kid likes to do-most likely, it's what they are good at. Jake likes painting, carving, and sculpture, all of which seem to be less fine motor oriented.
-music: It didn't even occur to me that music class would be a problem, but for kids with DCD and trouble with sequencing, learning to read music or play a fine motor oriented instrument such as a recorder is TORTURE. To adapt this, try using color coding for the notes and an xylophone(remember those xylophones for little kids with the color coded keys?) or better yet, singing or percussion instruments.
Agenda books/organization/homework: kids with DCD who have an incredibly hard staying organized and on top of homework need a lot of assistance here. Some teachers are willing to help out in this area, some see it as laziness and an unwillingness to 'take responsibility for their education'. Some are ideas that we have used or are hoping to put into place this fall...
-one binder for everything, with color coded dividers for each subject (less books to worry about)
-a 'week at a glance' in the very front, with a printout of the month as well (he likes to x off the days that have passed rather then try to deal with a whole book)
-a digital voice recorder, or tape recorder, for recording homework, assignments, announcements (which I then transcribe to the calendar)
-bright sticky notes to attach to homework-one color for "hand in" and one for "please do" as a visual cue
-for younger grades, a visual schedule right on their desk (can be written or in pics, depending on if the child can read) this relieves anxiety and keeps the child organized and prepped for what's coming next during the day.
-extra text books at home
More then anything, remember that the diagnosis really only is a small part of who they are. Capitalize on their strengths and the wonderful person that they are, by reminding them that everyone has different ways of learning' and different doesn't mean CAN'T. Just different.
Next post: Books, sensory kit items and resources that have been useful to our family!