April is Autism Acceptance Month

Mark Your Calendars, It’s Almost Autism Acceptance Month

Next month, it’s Autism Acceptance month! This is a worldwide event to celebrate Autistic pride and here at SmallTalk Pediatric Therapy, that’s cause for celebration! 

There are many fun events and activities happening next month to celebrate families on the spectrum! We wanted to give you the inside scoop before April rolls around. Join us in some of the fun while we celebrate differences and promote social inclusion and acceptance! 

Local Organizations and Events:

April 1, 2023 Race for Autism

  • WHERE: Balboa Park: 6th Ave & Laurel St. San Diego, CA 92103
  • WHEN: Saturday, April 1, 2023 6:30am to 11:30am
  • WHY?: Kick off April’s AUTISM ACCEPTANCE MONTH by joining us for the 19th annual Race for Autism SUPERHERO 5K and 1 Mile Family Walk in beautiful Balboa Park
  • MORE INFO: https://www.raceforautism.org/

Small Talk Pediatric Therapy will be at the Race for Autism! We are Supergirl sponsors for the race, so be sure to stop by our booth and say hi to the therapists. We’re excited to see you there!

April 3, 2023 Autism Acceptance Night – San Diego Padres vs. Arizona Diamondbacks

April 8, 2023 Family Pool & Pizza Party

April 29, 2023 Lights! Camera! Autism! 

Autism Society of San Diego

The Autism Society of San Diego offers support groups throughout the county year-round to provide support to families and their children. More information can be found on their meetup page at: http://www.meetup.com/autismsocietysandiego/. A monthly list of events are as follows:

  • Spectrum Social (group for autistic adults 18+)
  • Spanish Support Group (group is led in Spanish)
  • Adult Information and Support (group for parents and caretakers of adults on the autism spectrum)
  • Coffee Talk (daytime group open to all)
  • Happy Hour (evening group open to all)

By Madison Trussell, SLP-CF

OT’s Favorite Toys

As the holidays approach, we’re hearing many parents ask for gift recommendations! We
thought we’d put together another gift guide for 2022.

Experience Gifts

Your family could make gingerbread houses, bake a family recipe together, or play some
seasonal music while going for a drive to look at the lights in festive neighborhoods. Consider
packing dinner and going to see a seasonal movie together at the Santee Drive in. A family day
trip out to Julian or to Mt Laguna after a big rain to see the snow is often treasured more than
any gift or gadget! Experience gifts are wonderful ways to share new sensory experiences
together, and you can build in options for flexibility to support your children.

Gross Motor Play

For your busy child who seeks movement, consider obstacle course materials like balance
stones or beams, a mini trampoline, a pop up tunnel, or even a three-wheeled scooter or a
balance bike! If you’ve got outdoor space, perhaps consider a climbing dome or a new swing
or trapeze attachment for your play structure. For items that can be easily packed away, we
love the floor is lava game, parachutes, basketball hoops that hook anywhere, and bean
bags. Your child’s occupational therapist would love to show you at least 4 different exercises
for your child on a child-sized therapy ball. Our other favorite balls for indoor or outdoor play
include soft weighted balls, playground balls, and beach balls or balloons for children still
learning how to catch.

Pretend Play

You name it, they’ve made it: doctor’s kits, cash registers, dress up outfits, tool sets, and
sets with pots, pans, and pretend food. Pretend play enables children to experiment with the
social and emotional roles of life. They take another person’s perspective and enjoy controlling
the narrative. Children tend to develop skills in pretend play which start with familiar, everyday
experiences (sleeping, eating.), expand to less frequent experiences (visiting the doctor, going
on a plane). Children may feel more competent acting out scenes of a movie they’ve seen many
times than pretending to be adults they’ve only encountered a few times like a doctor or even a
grocery clerk. Start with your children’s strengths and interests, and build from there!

Hands-On (Fine Motor and Tactile) Play

From creative activities like drawing or painting to scooping and digging through kinetic sand,
play activities that build up the muscles of the hand are excellent for your child’s development.
We love easels you can put outside for a messy paint project or in the house for drawing on the
whiteboard. Some children may engage better while standing and working at a vertical surface
than seated at a table. We love dot-to-dot or maze books for quiet times. For children who
need extra pizazz with this type of play, we love jumbo chalk along with a water spray bottle
to erase, doodle boards that light up or play music when you draw, scratch paper books, and
of course, you can never go wrong with a fresh batch of playdoh.

Food-Related Play

If you’re looking for tools to bring your child into the kitchen, we’ve got a few favorites! Toddler
towers or kitchen helpers can provide opportunity for your child to get in among the action,
drizzling (or dumping!) ingredients together, using plastic tongs to move foods from one
container to another, or even just small measuring scoops and a sponge to play with soapy
water at the sink (and to keep them busy while you cook!). For children old enough to
participate, consider child-safe kitchen knives, shaped like a real knife but with a plastic/nylon
blade, or perhaps pick out a child-friendly cookbook together.

Constructional Play

To support your child’s skills in problem solving, fine motor control, dexterity, and spatial
awareness, consider constructional play materials. We love wooden block sets, lincoln logs,
marble runs, and of course the tried and true lego (or duplo / mega blocks for younger
children). We like constructional play activities that come with picture cards that provide a visual
goal for what to build, like light bright or k’nex, and we also love toys that encourage children
to ditch the models and create their own ideas. And for the child who loves a challenge,
stacking rocks as well as magnet building tiles may build both caution and resilience.

Social and Emotional Play

We love games and materials that encourage expression of a wide range of emotions, like
wooden eggspressions toys, the Big Feelings Pineapple, or books like Grumpy Monkey or
The Color Monster. Board games are a wonderful gift for family fun. For children who often
end competitive games with a chip on their shoulder, we love cooperative board games like
Mermaid Island, Dinosaur Escape, and Count your Chickens. We also love social
inferencing games like Hedbandz or Charades.

For more ideas on gifts specific to your child, check out our article from 2021! If you’d like ideas
specific to your child, please don’t hesitate to ask your child’s therapist for their input.

By Rachel Marshall, OTR/L

Finding Calm in the Chaos

Fall is my favorite time of the year! The weather gets cooler, festivities are all around, and Thanksgiving brings family and friends together. While family gatherings can be fun, they can also be overwhelming for children who get easily overstimulated. This could include reactions to change in routine, loudness, and/or the expectation of conversations with unfamiliar listeners. Here are a few tips to help your child during those unexpected situations: 

Tips for Routine Changes:

  • Make a visual schedule or use a calendar for your child, when the holidays come closer, in order to prepare for various events (Ex: Grandma and Grandpa come on Nov. 20th, Thanksgiving is on November 24th). You can do a fun countdown with your child to encourage anticipation for incoming visitors.
  • Give your child permission to leave a situation if overstimulation occurs. Even adults need a break, so if your child needs time alone for a while in a safe space, it’s okay.
  • Make clear boundaries with family members, so they are aware of expectations regarding your child. Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunts and Uncles love being with their littles, but may forget that your child doesn’t like to be hugged or asked a lot of questions up front.

Tips for Conversation with unfamiliar family members: 

  • Practice using a conversation map prior to visitors arriving where you write down a few bullet points to utilize during conversation. This is a great strategy to use if your child gets anxiety when talking with others. It can be simple and geared towards your child’s interests:
    • Hi, Aunt Sally. How are you?
    • I’m fine, how are you?
    • I’m great. How was your trip? Do you want to see my toys?
    • It was long, but good. Oh sure, let’s go play!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Written by: Caitlin Davis, SLPA

Incorporating basic concepts into america’s holidays

Happy Birthday month to our beautiful country, America! To many families, Fourth of July means fireworks, family reunions, concerts, barbecues, picnics, parades, and baseball games. For our speech therapists, holidays are a great opportunity to target several different language goals such as temporal, spatial, and quantitative concepts. It is important to remember that before a child can use the concept in their speech (expressive language), we must first be sure they have a full understanding (receptive language).

Temporal concepts

Temporal concepts (before, after, during, first, next, last) are words that are used to describe time. Celebrating special days that occur at the same time every year help provide children with a sense of time that passes in the duration of a year. We can converse with our kids about the upcoming holiday and model using temporal concepts. We may also show them a calendar and allow them to flip through and visualize the temporal order.

Verbal model examples: “Before the Fourth of July, we celebrate Valentine’s Day. After the Fourth of July, we celebrate Christmas. First is Valentine’s Day, next is Fourth of July, and last is Christmas. During the Fourth of July, we will have a cookout and watch fireworks.”

Visual examples: Try showing your child a calendar with pictures on each holiday. Allow them to flip through and visualize the temporal order. Start with two holidays and discuss before and after. You can also try three holidays using first, next, and last. For the children that are new to learning the concept, see if they can use their receptive language and flip to the first holiday! To target expressive language, ask your child a question such as “Which holiday comes first?”

Spatial concepts

Spatial concepts (in/out, up/down, on/off, over/under, behind/in front, next to/in between) or prepositions describe an object’s location in relation to another object. Understanding spatial concepts is critical for following directions and describing objects. Just like temporal concepts, we can use spatial concepts in conversation with our children as well as incorporating visuals to aid in understanding.

Verbal model examples: “Let’s shoot the fireworks up in the sky”, “Should we put the flag on the pole?”, “The float is in front of the dancers!”

Visual examples: Grab a cup and any mini object at home. First, see if your child can follow simple directions such as, “Put the eraser under the cup”. Once your child has mastered this, now you can move the object and ask the child “Where is the eraser?”. If you notice that the open task becomes too difficult, you can also provide your child with two options such as “Is it on top or under?”, changing it to a closed question that will be easier to answer while still prompting the child to use expressive language.

Quantitative concepts

Quantitative concepts (a little/a lot, all/none, more/less, most/least) can describe the size and amount of an object. Similar to spatial concepts, understanding quantitative concepts is important for following directions and describing objects.

Verbal model examples: “I hope we receive a lot of candy at the parade!”, “Do you think this is more candy than last year?”, “I wonder who found the most candy”.

Visual examples: Beginning with receptive language, pull out a large quantity of something such as legos, blocks, or marbles. Ask your child to give you all of the blocks, a little bit of legos, and a lot of marbles. You can also try this while cooking with your child; asking for more chocolate chips, a little bit of sugar, and less flour.

Holidays are a great way to organize our year with temporal concepts and use themes to make language concepts more fun for everyone!

Written by: Alexa Murman, MS CCC-SLP

Let’s play outside!

Summer is here and what better way to spend it than playing outside! Studies have shown that being outdoors promotes mental wellness; therefore, not only will your child benefit from being outdoors, but so can the whole family. Outdoor play can be anywhere from the backyard, your neighborhood park, the beach or a hiking trail. Summer also means school is out and your child might have some extra energy to burn. This is the perfect time to plan an activity incorporating all of the eight senses that your child may be working on during their occupational therapy sessions.

Eight senses:

  • Auditory: how we process sounds
  • Gustatory: how we process taste
  • Interoception: how we process what we feel within our body (hunger, toileting, stomach ache)
  • Olfactory: how we process smell
  • Proprioception: how we process where our body is in space
  • Tactile: how we process touch
  • Vestibular: how we process movement and balance
  • Visual: how we process what we see

Let’s go to the beach:

  • Tactile play/fine motor skills – Building a sand castle
  • Hand strength/grading of force – carrying a bucket of water, digging a hole in the sand
  • Visual scanning – Looking for seashells or rocks
  • Proprioceptive Input – Getting buried in the sand or running with the waves
  • Body/Safety awareness – Being aware of their surroundings and not wandering too far
  • Auditory – listening to the sounds of the waves

Let’s go on a nature walk:

  • Proprioceptive/vestibular input – walking up a hill or steep incline, safely balancing on a tree stump
  • Visual scanning – I spy a/some….
  • Tactile play – picking up different leaves and flowers
  • Auditory – listening to the sound of birds
  • Olfactory – smelling flowers

Let’s go to the park:

  • Vestibular input – Going down the slide and swinging
  • Proprioceptive input/motor planning – climbing up the play structure
  • Visual scanning – I spy a/some…
  • Tactile: playing in the sand box

Let’s play in the backyard:

  • Tactile/fine motor skills – water play: filling up containers to pour and scoop water
  • Vestibular input – Setting up a little obstacle course to climb, crawl, and jump to get from one end to another
  • Proprioceptive input/motor planning: animal walks around the backyard
  • Visual motor skills – drawing on the sidewalk with chalk

All of these examples will not only target the eight senses but it can also work on core and upper body strengthening, motor coordination, sequencing, endurance, self-regulation, social skills and building your child’s confidence to navigate their natural environment. Children learn more about themselves via play and can become more aware of their surroundings when playing outside. Studies have shown that there has been a decrease in outside play due to screen time and busy school schedules with extracurricular activities. Being around green plants and play yards reduce children’s stress levels; the natural space and surroundings can stimulate a child’s imagination and creativity. While playing outside, children can also benefit from natural sunlight, fresh and natural elements that contribute to bone development, a stronger immune system and physical activity. Green outdoor environments also promote improved attention and mental well-being.

June is safety awareness month and with outdoor play, it is important that your child also learns to be aware of their surroundings and their peers. You can practice having your child safely navigate their environment and provide verbal cues to stay within safe boundaries. You can initiate outdoor play in a smaller space before moving into a large space to practice safety. Although you want your child to engage in free play outside, it is important to create rules, safe zones and buddy systems. Remember to explore, have fun, let your child get dirty and enjoy the outdoors!

Monica Kem, M.S. OTR/L, SWC

Feeling the LOVE

February is here! And so are our themed therapy activities. We love thematic learning – it is relatable and helps kids make meaningful connections within their everyday lives.
Here are some of our favorite ideas to try incorporating at home:

Books about Feelings and Love

Themed books are a great way to teach vocabulary, encourage early literacy, and promote positive relationships and acceptance. When reading books with your child, we recommend using the “PEER” approach.

P: Prompt your child with a question about the story. Prompting your child focuses attention, engages the child in the story, and helps the child understand the book.
Point to something in the picture, for example, a balloon. “What is that?”

E: Evaluate your child’s response.

“That’s right! That’s a balloon.”

E: Expand on what your child said.

“That’s a big, red balloon! We saw one of those in the grocery store yesterday.”

R: Repeat or revisit the prompt you started with, encouraging your child to use the new information you’ve provided.

“Can you say big, red balloon?” Each time the book is reread, the expanded vocabulary words are verbalized again.

Here are some books worth checking out:

  • Froggy’s First Kiss, by Jonathan London
  • The Day it Rained Hearts, by Felicia Bond
  • Guess How Much I Love you, by Sam McBratney
  • Love Splat, by Rob Scotton
  • Love Monster, by Rachel Bright
  • Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch
  • The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
  • Llama Llama I Love You, by Anna Dewden
  • No Matter What, by Debi Gliori

Making Valentines

Arts and crafts activities are a great way to work on making choices, requesting and describing during play. Here are some useful strategies to incorporate during the craft at home:

  • Provide two choices during card-making: “Do you want the heart or the lip sticker?” or “Do you want the purple or red crayon?”
  • Model the use of adjectives: “Ooo, I pick the sparkly, red and white heart!” or “I’m going to draw a big chocolate candy.”
  • Teach location concepts: “Do you want to put the sticker in the middle or on the side?” or “Let’s write your name on the front.”
  • Practice “who” questions by asking who your child wants to make the card for.
  • Sabotage. Give your child an unsharpened pencil or a glue stick with the lid still on it so that they need to ask you for help.

Trip to the Post Office

Once your Valentines are complete, we recommend taking your kids on a trip to your local post office. Here are some ideas on how you can incorporate speech and language skills into the outing:

  • Teach related vocabulary: stamps, envelope, delivery, etc.,
  • Model comments: “I see a mail truck!” or “Wow, look at all of those mailboxes!”
  • Verbally sequence the steps to mailing a package: “First you fill the box, then you tape the outside, next you write the label…”
  • Take turns dropping mail into the mailbox and discussing who the mail is for.
  • Practice ordering stamps at the counter.
  • Bonus: Let your therapist know if you went on the outing, that way it can be a topic of conversation in their speech session. :)

We wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day and look forward to hearing how your activities go! We LOVE meaningful activities, making connections, and all of our wonderful families at SmallTalk.

Author: Julia Navarra, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist

Surviving the holidays with picky eaters

The holidays are times of family and traditions, many of which involve food and eating. However, when your child eats very few foods, the holidays can bring frustration and stress as you navigate the changes in routine, new foods and the expectations of eating them, and the abundance of desserts and sweets.

We’re sharing some recommendations to help you decrease stress surrounding mealtime so that you can enjoy the holidays with your loved ones.

  • Limit changes in routine. Holidays can often mean traveling, time changes, and lots of familiar and new faces. These changes can be overwhelming. Try to keep your child’s mealtime routines, including the time of day they eat and any cleanup routine, the same. If possible, bring familiar plates, utensils, and cups too!
  • Have your child eat a typical meal or snack before the big meal, especially if the big meal is later than the child’s usual mealtime. Then, keep a preferred snack at the ready for your child to eat with the whole family. The focus of the holiday meal should be family, not a struggle to explore new and tricky foods. If available, you can always bring some leftovers home for food exploration at a later time.
  • Prepare your child and set expectations. Explain to your child what activities may be happening and show pictures of who they can expect to be there. If there is going to be food present that may be tricky for your child to tolerate, try exploring the food through play the weeks before the holiday at home, where they will likely feel the safest.
  • Limit sweets! The holidays are filled with desserts that are sometimes hard to resist. Sugar can suppress appetite limiting consumption of nutritious foods. Try to keep sweets until the end of a meal; however, avoid making the availability of dessert dependent upon how they ate the rest of their meal.

Try these suggestions so you can focus on enjoying your time with loved ones.

The SmallTalk family wishes you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Lauren Fong

SmallTalk’s spooktacular Halloween tips and tricks!

October has officially arrived, triggering a return to school, apple picking, frolicking in the pumpkin patch, tractor rides, and the delicious aroma of pumpkin spice coffee. Of course, fall also stirs up the ghosts, goblins, and witches of Halloween!

While Halloween can be a memorable and exciting time for children all over the country, it is also a time of uncertainty, confusion, and stress for those who experience communication and sensory challenges. For these children and their families, Halloween can prove to be a difficult and overwhelming experience to navigate.
At SmallTalk, parents and families often ask how we can help prepare their children for the holiday seasons.

Below is a list of tips and tricks to help our families and emphasize the treats as opposed to the tricks of Halloween.

Prepare for Unexpected vs. Expected Situations

If Halloween brings discomfort to your child, discuss what they might expect to see, hear, or feel around or on that costume-filled night.

  • Read a non-threatening Halloween book/social story, watch a fun Halloween movie, listen to upbeat Halloween music or make a trip to a Halloween store.
  • Prepare and practice a written script for how and what to say for trick or treating interactions with neighbors and friends.
  • Review with your child a Halloween social story or sequence of events that will occur on Halloween while trick or treating.
  • Share your trick or treat route and script with your neighbors before Halloween night.
  • Discuss how your child is feeling about Halloween- excited, scared, happy, etc.
  • Anticipate and talk about some unexpected situations that could occur.
  • Reassure your child that friendly faces will be by their side throughout the night.

Augmentative/Alternative Communication

Create a Halloween page on your child’s AAC device with various Halloween icons and answers to possible Halloween questions such as “What is your costume?” “Are you having fun?”

  • Practice using the device’s Halloween page with your child, so they feel comfortable using it on Halloween night.

Articulation/ Phonological Delays

  • Suggest Trick or Treating in a small group of familiar people.
  • Consider a group costume with friends/family (i.e., Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, circus, etc.) to help your child feel more included.
  • If Halloween trick or treating is too overwhelming for your child, many communities, local churches, and schools provide Trick or Treating options.
  • Encourage your child to attend/participate in a Halloween party at school or local community.
  • Try an alternate Halloween plan.
    • Allow your child to hand out candy to trick or treaters and practice asking “Wh” questions to trick/treaters (i.e., What is your costume? Where did you get that?).

Sensory Challenges

  • Provide a Halloween craft or carve a pumpkin to expose your child to different textures.
    • Create a Halloween sensory bin.
  • Trick or treat before it gets dark.
  • Before Halloween night, walk around your trick/treating route and observe your neighbors’ decorations and lights.
  • Schedule sensory breaks while trick or treating or at Halloween festivities to avoid possible overstimulation and provide distance from foreseeable stressors.
  • Bring headphones to block out overwhelming/loud noises.
  • Try tasty candy alternatives if you have a “picky” eater.
  • Allow your child to pick a costume that makes them feel comfortable.
    • Try on the costume on several different occasions before trick or treating to make sure it is comfortable.
    • Allow it to hang in a visible spot days before Halloween to familiarize your child with the costume.
    • Create your own costume out of preferable fabric if a store-bought costume cannot be tolerated, and invite your child to be a part of the process.

We wish you a fun-filled and SPOOKTACULAR Halloween season. We cannot wait to see your costumes and hear your children tell us about their experience!

by Pamela “PJ” Baragona, MA CCC-SLP

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