Cerebral Palsy is a condition that is most often caused by brain damage which occurs before or during the birth of an infant, or within the first few years of a child’s life. Cerebral Palsy, can affect motor skills, muscles and movement. Those with Cerebral Palsy are often able to lead a normal and satisfying life, and Occupational Therapists can often help them to achieve this. The following article from My Child: Cerebral Palsy Foundation discusses some of the key ways Occupational Therapy can assist those living with Cerebral Palsy.
The new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has become a popular topic of conversation for both adults and youth, both online and in person. Many kids will watch this before their parents even know that they have. Yet, parents beware because the content in this is apparently both graphic and at times, disturbing. In fact, the content is so concerning that school boards and even the Canadian Mental Health Association have issued statements cautioning viewers of this series: CMHA National Statement Responding to Netflix Series: 13 Reasons Why.
Personally, I take no pleasure in watching gory or graphic content of rape and suicide and do not see the value in sensationalizing this for the youth of today. However, others argue that this series aims to deter suicide by showing how disturbing this can be. At the least, know what your children are watching and heed the warnings. Mental Health and Suicide are very sensitive topics – not to be taken lightly.
Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
I was recently reviewing my daughter’s school handbook and noticed the section on child and youth mental health. According to this (and the Canadian Mental Association) 1 in 5 children and youth struggle with mental health problems. While great strides have been made over the last several years to destigmatize and demystify mental health problems in both adults and kids, I feel this remains generally misunderstood. In my practice, I still see the common misperceptions that people with anxiety don’t leave the house or appear nervous and anxious in public, or that people with depression sleep all day, don’t attend to their appearance, and sit around crying and feeling sorry for themselves. The truth is that mental health is a spectrum, or a continuum if you will. It can vary and no one’s experience will be the same. In children, mental health problems can present differently. As per the handbook I was reading, the signs might include:
· Anxiety and fear that does not go away
· Frequent crying and weepiness
· Loss of interest in activities that were a source of pleasure in the past
· Difficulty concentrating
· Lack of energy or motivation
· Problems at school with falling marks
· Withdrawal from family, friends and school activities
· Increased school absences
· Loss or increase in appetite
· Sleeping too much or too little
· Increased irritability, anger or aggression
· Neglect of personal appearance
· Frequent stomach aches or headaches
· Increased alcohol or drug use
In general, parents should be able to monitor most of these and overt changes might be obvious (suddenly disconnecting from friends, drastic changes in grades, behavior change at home, quitting enjoyed activities, not eating food or participating in meal times, etc). But like with the continuum of mental health in adults, some of these might present some days and not others, or be so subtle that they deteriorate very slowly over time. As parents of teens we need to be the barometer for our kids as they may lack the ability to relate some of these signs to mental health or internal struggle.
Luckily, in Southern Ontario anyway, I see the mental health problems of kids being taken seriously and there are publicly funded community supports available. But getting your child connected with these can be the challenge. It can be hard to convince a teen to do anything they don’t agree with, let alone getting them to the myriad of appointments with doctors and clinicians that can help.
Occupational therapy plays many roles in helping kids and teens address issues with mental health. While some occupational therapists are trained to provide psychotherapy, others use meaningful and enjoyable tasks to help with mood elevation, reactivation and reengagement. We are skilled at looking beyond the obvious to get a better sense of what might help at home, school or in the community to get your child or teen on track. Sometimes it is as simple as helping them to reorganize their school work, create a process for managing assignments and tests, teaching them how to study in a way that works for them based on their learning style, or even looking at how their week is managed to make changes. Occupational therapists tackle things like sleep / wake schedules, eating and diet, activity participation, grades and school success, managing friends and relationships, motivation through engagement, and dealing with negative pressures that create more stress and anxiety.
My advice if you are concerned about your child? Start with your family doctor and discuss your concerns, even if your child won’t attend with you. Involve the school in your concerns to get their support and guidance, after all your child spends several hours a day in their supervision and care. Teachers can be a great resource and form of support as well, but you need to open those lines of communication. Don’t expect the school to come to you – often they don’t. If your child is in crisis, call your local Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) and ask them for help. They can (and should) also connect you and your child to other community programs.
If you have coverage for mental health treatment for your teen (extended benefits, other insurance funding, out-of-pocket), including occupational therapy, consider enlisting a private therapist. Private therapy often provides a larger scope of service, is more specialized, and can be provided over a prolonged period if appropriate. Any good private therapist will try to work themselves out of a job by getting your child on track as quickly as possible and they will want you to immediately feel the benefit of their involvement. Also, if you have private dollars or insurance coverage, I would suggest a psycho-educational assessment. These are extremely thorough “brain tests” that look at all aspects of how your child processes information, manages cognitive tasks, and addresses the complicated relationship between our brain and our emotions. The outcome of these assessments can be extremely helpful, and will provide both you as a family, and the school, with suggestions for how to best help your child to succeed.
I have always said watching my kids grow up is the best and worst part of parenting. It is especially heart-wrenching if your child is struggling. Watch for the signs, talk to your child and get them (and you!) support if they need it.
The great debate about dietary treatment for autism continues. Many parents with children who have autism are moving towards a strict gluten/casein free diet. Although this diet has not been medically proven to help with the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s), many feel that it does. Read the following from Autism Speaks to learn more about the debate over whether or not this special diet can help.
We want to hear from you! Has the Gluten-Free Casein-Free diet worked in your situation?
On April 2nd the world “lit it up blue” in support of World Autism Awareness Day. It is estimated that Autism Spectrum Disorder affects over 3 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide.
Occupational Therapy plays an important role in helping individuals living with autism. Learn many of the ways an OT can support individuals and their families in the following infographic:
Studies show that kids across the globe are becoming less active “couch potatoes” as early as age 7. In the following from CBC News learn more about this growing problem and the recommended guidelines for daily activity.
How can we put a stop to this growing problem?
We challenge you to spend active time together as a family! Now that Spring Has Sprung, try some of these fun family activities to boost the health of your children and yourself.
March is Nutrition Month and to celebrate our Food for Thought series will focus on some of the main factors that influence what and how we eat.
Picky eating is something quite common in children and youth and can cause great worry and disruption for many parents. Take a look at the following from the Dietitians of Canada to learn how to manage mealtime meltdowns and overcome the picky eating problem.
For more information on picky eating and solutions to help, check out the following video from our OT-V series: Solutions for Picky Eaters.
Guest Blogger: Carolyn Rocca, Student Occupational Therapist, 2017
According to Statistics Canada, in 2012 over 130,000 Canadians over the age of 15 years old reported that they have been diagnosed by a health professional as having an eating disorder. Considering these high rates, and the likely underestimation of reported diagnoses, eating disorders remain a form of mental illness that are not openly talked about.
Eating disorder is an umbrella term for several categories of diagnoses, with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorders not otherwise specified being the most common. Although symptoms vary based on the diagnosis, some overall symptoms experienced with eating disorders include a pre-occupation with body weight, body dissatisfaction, behaviours to prevent weight gain, perfectionism, emotional dysregulation, depressed mood (including suicidality), anxiety, and low self-esteem. Naturally, these symptoms can lead to secondary impacts such as physical adverse effects, social isolation, and a compromise of occupation in the areas of self-care, daily living, leisure, and productivity (NCCMH, 2004).
The treatment and recovery of adolescents with eating disorders involves the collective work of many healthcare professionals including physicians, dietitians, nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, teachers, child and youth counselors, and, yes, occupational therapists (Norris et al., 2013). Each of these team members works collaboratively to deliver the best practice approaches of pharmacotherapy, nutritional rehabilitation, and psychosocial interventions, including cognitive behavioural, dialectical behavioural, interpersonal, and family based therapies, among others (APA, 2006; NCCMH, 2004). Several of the healthcare professionals working with adolescents with eating disorders can deliver these therapies, including occupational therapists.
This means that occupational therapists work effectively with several disciplines to deliver best practice approaches, while also integrating their unique focus on occupational functioning to the team. Occupational therapists’ unique contribution is their ability to holistically address the physical, cognitive, behavioural, and psychosocial aspects of adolescent eating disorders through occupation-based approaches to improve adolescents’ self-worth and self-esteem (Kloczko & Ikiugu, 2006). As mentioned previously, eating disorders commonly have a substantial impact on adolescents’ function in the areas of leisure, self-care, daily living, and productivity (NCCMH, 2004), meaning many youth have difficulty balancing their family and social lives, education, employment, extra-curricular participation, ability to regulate their own activities, and thus overall health.
Occupational therapists have the expertise to work closely with adolescents and their family to help them with their goals around succeeding in school, work, leisure, and overall re-engagement in meaningful activities. In fact, Occupational Therapists are skilled at using meaningful activities as a vessel to get to the underlying problem of the eating disorder. Sessions don’t focus on eating, food or binging behavior, but on being productive, enjoying life, and accomplishing things that matter. The indirect influence is better choices in other areas (including diet) and recognizing the link between mental and physical health, quality of life and wellness.
If you know a teen (or adult for that matter) that may be dealing with an eating disorder, encourage them get help. There is a team of professionals, including occupational therapy, that are skilled at assisting teens to recover from these, and other mental health issues.
References & Resources:
American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2006). Practice guideline for the treatment of patients with eating disorders (3rd ed). Retrieved from https://www.guideline.gov/summaries/summary/9318/practice-guideline-for-the-treatment-of-patients-with-eating-disorders
Kloczko, E., & Ikiugu, M. N. (2006). The role of occupational therapy in the treatment of adolescents with eating disorders as perceived by mental health therapists. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 22(1), 63-83. doi:10.1300/J004v22n01_05
National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH). (2004). Eating disorders: Core interventions in the treatment and management of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg9/evidence
Norris, M., Strike, M., Pinhas, L., Gomez, R., Elliott, A., Ferguson, P., & Gusella, J. (2013). The Canadian eating disorder program survey–exploring intensive treatment programs for youth with eating disorders. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 22(4), 310.
Statistics Canada: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-619-m/2012004/sections/sectiond-eng.htm
Though we live in a digital age we should not simply dismiss the things that generations before us used to communicate: such as face to face conversation, pen and paper, and handwriting. Handwriting, though taught less frequently across the globe, has many benefits beyond the simple development of motor skills. Take a look at the following from The New York Times that discusses why handwriting is still an essential part of learning, growth and development.
Additionally learn how Occupational Therapists provide solutions for printing and handwriting success in the following OT-V episode.
Looking for some inspiration on how to spend the day together?
Here are our Top 10 Suggestions For Fun Family Day Activities: