Thursday, July 25, 2013

Boys and Their Cars


As the boys’ 4th birthday is approaching I think about what toys we need to get rid of to make room for the new ones.  What toys have they outgrown, don’t play with anymore, have broken, etc. 
 
When they were around one we started getting them the Fisher Price wheelies line of toys.  For their second Hanukah they got a tall ramp to put their cars down and it was a great toy for them to lean on and cruise around when they were still learning to walk.  We also got them a car wash and family had gotten them a Batman batcave that actually connects to the car wash.  As the Wheelies line grew in popularity so did the range of cars you could buy for it-they now have character cars.  So we not only have the Bat cave but we also have Batman, the Joker, Wonder Woman and the recent additions to our collection, Woody, Buzz and Jessie. 
the characters enjoy the Batcave and the Car Wash
 
What I like about the wheelie cars is that they were great when the boys were one and putting things in their mouths and they are still great now as they are approaching four because they use the cars more imaginatively as they are consistently narrating their play and not just watching cars go down a ramp.  They now “fill up” the cars at the gas pump, wash the cars in the car wash and fix the cars at the mechanics.  There are many different play sets you can buy to go with the wheelies so you can keep up with your kids growing imaginations.  I love toys that can grow with your child and not just be tossed aside after six months.   


The boys are old enough now for matchbox cars and they have quite a few of those but they will still go to their wheelies quite often so I guess we will be holding to those through another birthday!

 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Three Little Bakers in the Kitchen


Baking with three little boys is often easier said than done.  However, every now and then I gear myself up for the challenge and prepare the kitchen to make a mess and hopefully get some cookies out of it!!  We are heading to a family BBQ tomorrow so I decided to make some dough and get out our awesome super hero cookie cutters.  My boys are nuts over super heroes right now, so helping mommy in the kitchen to make cookies got even better when we received a set of four super hero cookie cutters as a gift-Captain America, Hulk, Spider-Man and Iron Man.  These cookie cutters can be purchased here.  I love these cookie cutters because they are easy for little ones to use (they just have to push down) and the cookie actually looks like the super hero so it is easy for your little one to recognize and enjoy their creation.
Iron Man is currently missing
 
 
 
I do not have a large kitchen so thankfully the boys each took turns as to when they were interested in making cookies this afternoon.  They each helped roll out the dough and they each got to pick a hero and make a cookie or two. 

The finished product!  Iron Man has gone missing :(

I am also so proud of Liam for baking his first batch of cookies with me.  Liam has sensory processing disorder and getting his hands messy with different textures has been a struggle for him.  I am happy to report that he has made huge strides and really got into putting his hands into the flour (he called it cauliflower) spreading it all over the counter to roll out the dough and even spread it all over himself.  He told me the dough was squishy and enjoyed smelling it, touching it and trying to taste it. 
Liam playing peek-a-boo with the flour
 
I am glad the boys are finally at the age where they enjoy helping me bake and cook.  Now I just have to wait for the age when they can help me clean up the mess!! 
 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Super Hero Craft Kit

My boys are officially crazy over super heroes.  This was not by accident of course.  Daddy is a comic book/super hero nut and so is their Uncle.  Since birth they have been introduced to the likes of Doctor Doom, Spider-Man, Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Iron Man, Captain America, etc. etc. etc.  In fact, before they were born the boys had a Doctor Doom onesie, an Iron Man onesie and an Aqua Man onesie waiting for them. 



Although Caleb, Jake and Liam were introduced to all the super heroes in utero, it is only recently that they have really gotten into knowing who the super heroes are and wanting to dress up as them. 


The Green Lantern a.k.a. Caleb

In a recent trip to Target (also where the mask was purchased thanks to a friend and saved me from busting out the sewing machine), I found a cute super hero craft kit.  For a few dollars the kit came with five different colored bathroom cups and all the requisite stickers to make Superman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Wonder Woman and Batman.  Perfect!! I snatched it off the shelf and put it in my arsenal for a rainy summer day. 

Last week I pulled it out and it kept 2 out of 3 of my kids happily applying stickers for about a half hour.  (Liam is not into crafts, I think it is because he finds it challenging but it is one of those things we are working through with him.  After we completed the cups, the boys played with them for days as hand puppets.  The stickers started coming off after several days so they have slowly been making their way to the garbage can this week.  For a few dollars it was well worth it to make the boys happy and give them something creative to do for a little while.  The only argument we had was that they could not have orange juice in the cups.  We compromised and I let them put some snacks in the cups when they were not using them as puppets. 

 
The finished product!  Jake had already run off with the Flash who he insists is actually Captain Marvel.  For those of who you do not follow the comics, both have yellow lighting bolts as their insignia so to three year old preschoolers they are interchangeable!!!





Monday, July 15, 2013

Getting Off on the Right Foot: The Quest for Left and Right Continues

About a year ago I posted a blog entry about Shoezooz called  Getting Off on the Right Foot.  I was excited to see that Shoezooz has recently come out with new designs!  Now you can choose from sea creatures and jungle animals in addition to the farm animals. 


Jake, Caleb and Liam's shoes
As my boys are now approaching four years old, they still do not pay attention to what shoe should go on which foot but they do know that Caleb's are the pig shoes,  Liam's are the sheep shoes and Jake's are the cow shoes. 



Believe it or not, I think getting three kids out of the house is one of the biggest challenges I face on a daily basis.  I am always looking for ways for the boys to participate in getting themselves ready and Shoezooz has assisted in making that possible.  Every time we get new shoes, I also buy a set of shoezooz.  I am excited that I have two more designs to choose from this fall when we buy our back to school sneakers. 



You can also buy the new designs direct from Shoezooz here!!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Creating a Visual Schedule for Your Child


My son Liam has Sensory Processing Disorder.  Liam has trouble processing the information his body receives through his senses.  When Liam cannot understand or process the information presented to him, his anxiety takes over and he will have a meltdown.  One area that can cause a meltdown for Liam is not knowing what comes next in his day.  Talking to him about it is now always enough.  He often needs to see it, hear it, touch it all at the same time to really have an understanding.  After discussing the issue with Liam’s special instructor, speech therapist and occupational therapist and doing some research on my own I decided to create a visual schedule for Liam to use at home, similar to what you would see at a preschool or in any classroom, so that Liam had a place to go to and see what his day would bring. 
Liam's schedule

 
The goal was to give Liam a certain comfort level to reduce his anxiety and give him some control over his day if he was feeling out of control.  At the suggestion of his therapists I wanted to provide a schedule that was not only visual but also involved a gross motor component so that Liam could physically interact with his schedule (again giving him that sense of control and accomplishment).
 

Having three year old triplet boys (or just having children in general) means our schedule is constantly changing day to day, hour to hour.  We do not have school every day, different therapists come on different days, our weekend plans were always up in the air, etc.  Most visual schedules are a simple strip of Velcro to stick cards in order and Liam could pull them off and move them to a box or move them to a completed column.  My issue with that was if he pulled off the card I would always have to know where the box was (not an easy task in my house) and if he moved them to a completed column he would still see the card and it would be confusing for him. 
Original Visual Schedule-Thanks to mynameissnickerdoodle.com

I researched visual schedules (I am always researching) and I found a great idea on Pinterest that I have modified.  The original idea was a mom making a chore chart for her child.  She took a piece of oak tag folded in half with one half cut into flaps.  The picture schedule was taped onto the uncut side and the flaps would cover the completed task with the use of a simple magnet.  Brilliant! 

I loved the idea but I know I needed a bit more flexibility so I decided to make the entire schedule magnetic, including the pictures.  I also included encouraging phrases for Liam to read when he closed the flaps.  I purchased oak tag from a craft store and I found magnetic tape on Amazon.com.  I needed a magnet that would be light enough to place on the oak tag and not drag it down, the tape was a perfect solution.  I placed the schedule on the back of our front door which happens to be magnetic (the refrigerator is reserved for the magnetic letters and I would have had a revolt on my hands if I tried to introduce a new item).  I made a million different cards using Microsoft publisher (Microsoft word would work too) using a mixture of clip art, real photos and store logos.  I printed the pictures on photo paper so it would be a heavier stock than just paper, cut them into squares and put the magnetic tape on the back of each one.  It is totally magnetic so it can be attached to any magnetic surface and it can be moved or transported with you if you need it at another location. 

It was a complete success.  The first day I introduced the schedule to Liam I would walk him over to the schedule after we finished each item so that he could close the flap.  By the end of the day after his speech therapist left, Liam walked over to the schedule and closed the flap on his own.  I was so proud of him.  The schedule has been a fantastic addition to our lives.  Every morning when Liam wakes up he consults the schedule and knows what he has to do.  One time he tried to fight me on taking a bath and I told him to look at the schedule so he gave in!  I have even taken it with me on vacation and put it on the mini fridge in the hotel room!  The visual schedule provides Liam with another coping mechanism to deal with his sensory processing issues and has helped to instill confidence in him. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Eat Your Own Vegetables


A long term project I have chosen for the summer is a small vegetable garden on our deck.  It started when the boys came home from preschool with some plants that I assumed were flowers but I quickly discovered were actually, corn, pumpkin and what I have dubbed the mystery plant (for whatever reason it was only labeled with Jake’s name and not the plant’s identity—we are still awaiting what it will blossom into). 




 
About one week after planting

I had planted the vegetables in a small window box and that is when I discovered the white plastic sticks did not only contain the boys’ names but also the identity of the vegetables (except in the case of Jake’s mystery plant).  Knowing that corn and pumpkins would need a bit more room we made a family trip to Home Depot one weekend and purchased a large whiskey barrel planter for $20.00 and gardening soil.  Of course while on line waiting to pay we picked up some more seeds to plant, namely carrots, more pumpkins and some green beans.  



We are now on week six and the vegetables are flourishing.  The boys help me water them each day, an activity that can sometimes get out of hand, and we are eagerly awaiting the first signs of pumpkins in the fall.  I am not entirely sure if the carrots will make it since my husband threw them into the soil after Jake managed to open the seed packet on planting day but I continue to hope for the best. 
Jake watering all the plants

I am using vegetable garden to talk about how the flowers and plants grow from seeds.  They started talking about this process in preschool and I am always eager to feed their curiosity with as much information as I can provide.  I am also hoping it will cause the boys to eat some vegetables that they have grown themselves.  I know they will not hesitate to decorate the pumpkins when it comes to Halloween this year!!
Vegetable garden today! 


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

It is all Sensory


My son Liam loves to jump.  In fact, he learned to jump with two feet off the ground when he was about 18 months old.  By the time he was two he was jumping on everything, especially our couch.  There was just no stopping him. He was hitting his milestones at or ahead of schedule and we didn't worry about him.  Around his second birthday I started to notice he hit a wall with his speech.  He was not stringing words together, he was not able to communicate what he wanted and as a result he was increasingly getting frustrated and melting down.  Both of his brothers were already receiving speech therapy for an unspecified delay through the Early Intervention Program.  After discussing my concerns with our speech therapist she agreed that it was time to put the referral in and at 30 months we had him evaluated for potential speech delays.
Jake, Liam and Caleb
The evaluations confirmed that Liam’s speech delay was significant enough to qualify him for speech therapy twice a week for 45 minutes.  In addition, he qualified to receive special instruction services once a week.  As was the case with his brother Jake, the speech delay resulted in a delay in social and play skills.  The special instructor was assigned with the task of working with Liam to improve on those areas in conjunction with his speech therapist.  For me this was not new.  Caleb had been receiving speech since he was 15 months old and Jake soon followed around 18 months old.  In addition to receiving speech therapy twice a week, Jake also received occupational therapy, physical therapy and special instruction twice a week.  Needless to say having therapists come to my house to work with my kids was a regular occurrence.   

By the beginning of May 2012 (just over a year ago) Liam started to receive speech and special instruction.  I assumed he was going to be like the other two.  Typical delays associated with being premature and just needing a little bit of assistance to catch up with peers.  Liam has always needed a certain comfort level with people so it worked to my benefit that he already knew both the speech therapist and special instructor from working with his brothers.  The more time Liam and Jake’s special instructor spent with us, the more she noticed Liam’s need to jump.  She mentioned to me that Liam may not just be jumping because he enjoyed it, rather Liam jumped because he got something out of it.  The jumping gave him a sensation he craved or needed to function. 

I admittedly blew this off at first.  It seemed to me Liam was being an active little boy and enjoyed jumping, running, kicking the soccer ball.  These were the things he excelled at.  However, as time went on, what Liam’s special instructor was telling me was making more sense.  I remembered that when he was a baby he loved to hang out in the swing, he often would fall asleep in it.  Liam had to be swaddled until at least six months of age, long after his brothers had given it up.  But, it made him happy and we all got sleep so I did not think anything of it. 

In April of last year, after Liam’s evaluation but before our meeting to begin services, we had taken a vacation to Florida to see family.  We drove from New York to Florida over the course of three days stopping to see family in South Carolina along the way.   Each stop we made Liam became increasingly anxious and would not go to sleep in the foreign hotel rooms.  Each day he did not take a nap, required me to hold him most of the time and would not go to sleep until 11 or 12 at night.  As the sleep deprivation went on he would be crankier and crankier.  Liam had to sleep in the bed with my husband and I to fall asleep.  Finally when we got to my brother in law’s house in Florida he was either jumping on their couch or clinging to me and crying every second.  If he could not see me or if I went to another room a total meltdown would occur.  Liam could not handle the changes, could not handle not knowing what was coming next and could not process what was going on around him.  It was a relief to get home.  While Liam was still jumping and screaming, it was not as intense as being away from home.  He loves his crib, he loves sleeping in his crib and he was back to his routine which made things marginally better. 


On the advice of my special instructor and speech therapist I started reading a book called The Out of Sync Child.  It was an eye opening experience for me.  So many things described Liam and so much of the book helped me understand what he was going through.  It was apparent to me that Liam has sensory processing disorder.  The way I have read sensory processing disorder described is that there is a traffic jam with the senses and the brain cannot process what the senses are sending.  In Liam’s case he cannot regulate himself, he cannot find that neutral setting to function on a daily basis.  There are certain things he is hyper sensitive to and certain things he is hypo sensitive to.  The most challenging part is that on any given day those things can change.  He also has a lot of challenges processing sounds, including instructions to complete projects or simple one step and two step directions.  Sometimes he can hear a noise that you or I would not even give a second thought to but for Liam it is amplified and he may not know or understand what it is and as a result his anxiety takes over and can cause a complete meltdown.  There are days where we are outside riding bikes and the simple sound of the trees blowing in the wind will cause him to panic, run into the garage and refuse to come outside and play for the rest of the afternoon.  Then there are other days when he gets a little water on his shirt when we are out watering the plants and he demands that I remove all of his clothes and ends up running around in the grass in only his diaper.  The Out of Sync Child really helped me put things into perspective. 
As time went on, Liam’s jumping intensified and he would be on our couch constantly using it as a pseudo trampoline or he would be jumping across the floor.  Liam’s frustration level was also steadily increasing.  It was as if he could not find the words to tell us what he wanted or needed and in turn he would scream, sometimes while banging his head against the wall deliberately or rolling around on the floor.  All this would be going on as I tried to deduce what he wanted.  There is not an easy way to describe Liam’s screams unless you hear them.  They are not typical toddler screams, they are high pitched shrieks that may actually manage to break a window or two one day.  With his meltdowns at an all time high over the summer of 2012, I began to worry more and more if Liam had autism, how he was going to get through life and starting preschool in the fall. 

When his six month progress note was due in September, we put in a referral to be evaluated by an occupational therapist.  Because Jake was already receiving occupational therapy, I was able to consult with our current occupational therapist and discuss different techniques that may work with Liam.  With the help of his speech therapist, I prepared a social story for Liam about going to preschool and we attended a mommy and me class at the preschool building over the summer so that Liam would have a familiar setting to relate to when beginning school in the fall, hopefully relieving his anxiety.  Our preschool provided an option for the teachers to come to our house about a week before school started so they could be introduced in a familiar setting.    
September came and Liam really rose to the occasion.  The teachers would come out to the car to bring the boys into the classroom and without hesitation they went.  Liam barely even said goodbye.  I was so proud of all of them, but especially Liam because I know how hard it was for him to go into a new situation.  His SEIT attended school with him two days a week for an hour at a time to assist Liam with social and play skills in the classroom.  At the beginning of the year he did not play much with other children, he generally sat by himself taking it all in, getting to know the routine.  I was pleased he was not screaming and that he separated well from me.  All the preparation had paid off. 
The classroom was a lot for Liam to take in and process all of the information.  As the year went on Liam became comfortable with the routine and began to participate in some of the activities, especially the music/singing activities.  He finally began receiving occupational therapy twice a week at the end of November that included a sensory diet with lots of proprioceptive input.  Part of his sensory diet includes the Wilbarger brushing technique, joint compressions, and a compression vest.  He learned to take sensory breaks at school and jump to organize himself.  


Liam’s language skills began to improve dramatically and his participation at school was increasing.  He had a great first year of preschool and his social skills continue to improve.  He is finally addressing his brothers directly by name and asking them for a turn instead of coming to me and crying.  Liam was able to start to identify the various things he needed to do to regulate himself, whether it was jumping or needing a squish or a roll in a blanket.  Sometimes it would just be to walk away from an over stimulating situation and do an activity that would comfort him (early on it was lining up candles in his toy menorah, now it is spelling words on the refrigerator with our magnetic letters, at school it usually meant he would go to a corner and jump). 


As he becomes more and more social and vocal we are realizing how smart he is and how much he has been taking in all this time.  He knew everyone’s name at school and how to spell it.  He can read quite a few words out of context, like dog, cat, zoo, in, out, on, car, cake, fish, Jupiter (see my blog post Going on a Space Adventure), thank you, star, just to name a few.  A calming activity for Liam is to line up magnetic letters on our refrigerator.  Now we have found that he not only lines up the letters but he has expanded his play and enjoys spelling real words.  Just the other day he called me into the kitchen to tell me he spelled mall and I found Macys spelled out on the fridge.  That is one of the stores he sees when we drive past the mall and to him that is he how you spell mall.  

With the sensory diet in place he has made huge strides.   This is not to say we do not deal with his sensory issues on a daily basis.  I think Liam, his brothers, his father and myself have all learned and are learning to cope with the various challenges faced each day.  I worry less about autism now that I have seen him grow by working with him and implementing his sensory diet.  It really has been a crazy ride so far, especially when he has two brothers the same age who cannot understand why Liam needs to be treated a little different sometimes.  I have seen such great improvements with him that no one can tell me that sensory processing disorder does not exist.  I think Liam will always struggle to process information and will always need to find ways to cope with different situations.  We suspect a lot of what is going on with him is related to auditory processing but he is still too young to receive a definitive diagnosis in that area.  He continues to struggle with understanding and processing directions in a classroom setting and his anxiety will often take over in new situations.  Every child is different and, as a result, different therapies work for different kids.  I do a ton of research, it is just part of my nature, and I am always looking for different things that will engage Liam and assist him in interacting with other kids, other adults, and trying new things.  I constantly find us taking two steps forward and one step back but I try to keep focused on the progress and I try to start each day with a calm and positive attitude. 
Liam got his face painted at a birthday party recently!  Another success.
 Recently, Liam, along with his brothers, were part of a child development study.  They confirmed his sensory processing diagnosis!  They were unable to completely rule out autism and we will be referred for further testing.  My only goal is to get Liam all the help and services he needs regardless of the label placed on him.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Beating the Heat with Chalk and Power Tools


Another summer day home with my preschoolers down.  Of course we spent a large amount of time outside and riding bikes.  The heat and humidity (although nothing compared to the west coast right now) allowed us to spend an hour outside and an hour inside to rehydrate. 

A fun and inexpensive activity for Friday afternoon was having my guys lay down on the driveway (the shady parts) and I did an outline chalk drawing of each of them.  Of course they also insisted on me laying down and drawing an outline of me.  I think they got more chalk on my clothes than on me.  I switched it up when the driveway was too hot to lay down and I had Jake stand still and traced his shadow on the driveway.  He thought it was great.  Then the boys filled in eyes, ears, glasses and it got us through another hour of the day. 

 

 
When my husband arrived home that night he joked that it looked like a crime scene outside with all the chalk outlines but it kept them happy and made the afternoon go by quickly!
 
After some time inside to cool down and have a quick snack, we ended the afternoon by giving our bikes a quick tune up in the driveway using our "power tools"  The bikes have never run better!!