Sunday, October 21, 2012

A firework, a story of Autism

Check out this video about Jodi and her family and how far she has come since she was diagnosed with Autism at age 2.

Repost: Early Cues to Autism

Because we know that early intervention can help decrease the symptoms of Autism and can help parents interact with their children in ways that improve the child's communication and social behavior, researchers have been looking for early signs that may indicate Autism. Autism does run in families so the siblings of Autistic children have been studied in comparison to children from families without an autistic child. One early indication is that most children respond to their name (or nickname) by the age of 12 months. Children who later are diagnosed with autism do not. Now new research indicates that there are difference in non-verbal communication from as early as 8 months of age. I am posting the link to an article regarding the study. This article will link you to the full study. The important thing is to communicate with your baby and to respond to his or her communication to you. Here is the link:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

No screen time. Why?

I have noticed that if I am on the computer after 8 or 9 pm, I do not sleep well during the night. I mentioned this to someone who told me that research has shown that late screen time affects the quality of sleep. In addition to being a distraction that keeps you awake, an open screen actually affects the release of the hormone, Melatonin , which helps you sleep. This hormone is released as it becomes dark and the light of the screen, especially the “blue light” of the new screens, does not encourage the hormone release, making it physically more difficult to sleep. This is a reason that all people should monitor their screen use and try to avoid screens at least an hour before sleeping. It is even more critical for infants because their sleep rhythms are not fully developed and most of the day is within 2 hours of a sleep period in young infants.  Screens include television, computer screens, cell phone and i-pad screens and, yes, even e-readers.  Any lighted screen that projects visual images is considered a “screen”.  The closer to you the screen is, the more impact it will have. You usually sit some distance from the tv but much closer to the computer and actually hold the pads and phones up to your eyes.
Sleep is not the only thing that is affected by screen time.  Screen time has been associated with slower language development. Babies and toddlers who spend a lot of time in front of a screen are actually slower to speak. This is also true if babies are in rooms where the tv is on, even when they are not actually sitting in front of it. It is suggested that the indistinct noise that comes from the tv makes it harder for a baby to recognize and learn language.
There are conflicting studies with regard to cognitive development so it is not clear what impact screen time has. However, it is well known that children do not learn anything from passive input and television is the ultimate in passive input. If your child is watching Sesame Street, for example, all by herself she will get very little from the program. If an adult is sitting with her and commenting on the activities or using them for interactive games, your child will learn much more. The interaction with the adult is far more instructive without the television program.  One concern about screen time, and television in particular, is that each minute your child is watching is a minute less that she spends interacting with people or objects in the world. Those interactions are where real learning takes place.
What about those “Learning DVDs” especially for babies? The indication is that they do not educate babies. As mentioned above, without interaction, babies do not learn. Passively watching a DVD, no matter how “educational” the content, does not impress babies in the way they are supposed to.  While the founder of the Baby Einstein company has questioned at least one study that indicated that passive DVDlearning does nothing for babies, her protest was mainly concerned with her difficulty in getting the actual data of a study done at the University of Washington.
Another area of concern is that media use is that the quick pace causes attention span problems.  A first grade teacher I knew once told me that all the kids expect school to be like Sesame Street, with short active interludes involving cute animals and then jumping on to another subject. She said it was difficult for a teacher to be as entertaining. In addition, the children did not stay focused long enough to learn the material.
The content of programs is also of concern. Most programs for children are written for adults. Often children do not really understand the point of the program. One study of a program that was supposed to teach tolerance to 3-5 year olds actually had the opposite effect. The program focused on the difference that was to be tolerated for more time than it did on the group interaction. The children who watched it were more impressed by the fact that there was a difference then by the idea that they should be tolerant of differences,
Many people think that young children and babies will not understand the content of adult programs so will not be affected if they are in the room but that may not be so. In one study, children who were in the room when a scary program was played to  adults, had a more difficult time sleeping even though they did not seem to be watching. Another study of 6 year olds showed that after viewing a violent cartoon act, children became more violent but after viewing a live act of violence (a man punching another man after a brief argument) they became subdued. This study was done more than 30 years ago.
Because of the concerns about screen time and the possible effects, Pediatric groups all over the world are recommending that babies under 24 months are exposed to ZERO screen time. That does not mean that if you pass a store window with a TV on display that you are going to ruin your child. That means that you should not put your baby in the same room where people are watching  TV and should not set them at computers even with baby computer games. After 2, the recommendation is that toddlers are exposed to less than one hour a day of screen time and that the time they are in front of a screen (TV or computer) is shared with an adult who interacts with them.
The best thing for a baby’s development is to be able to explore and interact with real objects  and people in his world. Screen activities are not real.  Below are several websites and links to articles about screen time.  The first is to an activist group that is called “Commercial Free Childhood” and is concerned about the effects of advertising on children.  The second outlines the recommendation of pediatricians  regarding screen time for infants. The third is a link to a blog  called Baby Unplugged, which talks about the research on screen time as well as about what you can do with your time that you are not on screens. The 4th is the article mentioned above from the founder of Baby Einstien.

Friday, October 5, 2012

How to and not to introduce a cup.

This link is to a recommended article about cup drinking from one of my favorite writer-mothers at Down wit Dat. I have never met her in person but follow her blog about raising 3 children including twins, one of whom has Down Syndrome. As I worked as an occupational therapist in an early intervention program, I love that she appreciates what we try to do in a lot of her posts. But she is also a nurse and and very informed about Down Syndrome as well as an entertaining writer. Even if you do not know anyone with Down Syndrome, you can appreciate her descriptions of life in the Logan home. This one includes the recommended "ideal" for cup training and the real life truth. The picture is from her blog.
As to cup drinking, I have noticed that there is very little choice in cups these days. If you want a cup that does not leak or spill dramatically, you have to get a spouted sippy cup. There are many brands of these and the spouts vary from soft to hard and in size. I have never liked sippy cups and my children did not either. Neither of them used a bottle on a regular basis and so they were not used to the bottle nipple style of drinking. Sippy cups are not really that different than drinking from a bottle.
The cup I used was by Tupperware. It had a heavy bottom so it stood upright if dropped and two handles for baby to hold onto. The real treasure of the cup was that it had a fitted indented lid with 3 small holes on each side. This held the liquid in but released it when the cup was tipped into the mouth. The children drank in the same way that we all drink out of a cup but did not have to deal with a flood of liquid and I did not have to deal with liquid everywhere. Milk, water and juice could be drunk from the cup in a reasonable time, like a mealtime. I looked for this cup on the market recently and did not find it but am happy to see the cup pictured above. It works on a similar principle though the cap looks a little more complicated that the old Tupperware ones I had.
As pointed out in the original article, it is not the cup (nor even the bottle) that causes tooth decay. It is the contents. Since no spill cups don't spill, it is easy to give it to baby and let him walk around with his cup. It that cup contains anything but plain water, he is bathing his teeth in sugar (even from milk) all day long and that is what decays the teeth. The cups may be related to displacement of the teeth which may require braces down the line especially those with firmer spouts. This would be the case if the cup is used extensively and for a long period of time. The idea is to move to regular cups as soon as your child is able to. Not all 2 year olds can handle drinking from a regular cup and may need some control.

Developing Independence with confidence for Baby and Frustration for MOM

All of a sudden one day, your sweet baby becomes clingy and whiny. After checking that she is not sick and that no one is bothering her, you wonder what is going on. This goes on for days.  The fact of the matter is that during times of great development children become difficult and clingy.  It has to do with needing your support in order to explore away from you. This explains quite a bit and may make it easier for you, as a parent, to get through these times.
What have we here?!?
Children of all ages need a secure base (you) to explore the world from. They need to feel safe so that they can be brave. The world is a big place and infants are curious about it but it is an unknown. From the start, adults play a big role in the development of confidence. A very new baby needs to know that someone will respond to his cries and that someone will see that his needs are met. Armed with that knowledge, he can think about the rest of the world. Your role, then, is to assure him that you “have his back” by answering his cries and by providing for his basic needs.
Another factor in confidence is having success. Children need to succeed in the tasks they have to do. However, these tasks need to be challenging as well. You do not get a sense of accomplishment at succeeding at something you have done a hundred times easily.  At the same time, you don’t get a feeling of accomplishment if you fail at a task that is too difficult. Your role as a parent is to provide activities that are challenging but not too difficult to be completed with a little help. The psychologist Vygotsky suggested the term “The Zone of Proximal Development” to describe the level that a child needs to be working at. I have always liked this term. It means that you work at the level just above the one that is securely accomplished. These are things the child cannot actually do himself but can do with a little guidance.  A parent can help the child “learn” to do these things using a process called “Scaffolding”. You see what your child can do and offer something just a little more difficult. Help with the parts that are too difficult to have a successful experience. Decrease help and the child’s ability increases. This last step is very important. Nothing erodes confidence more than having someone else do everything for you as if you are not capable. There are many lists of activity ideas connected to developmental levels around the internet, including those on the pages in this blog where suggested activities are listed after milestones by month for the first year.
Providing security and success is an ongoing process. However,  there are certain times in a child’s life when they seem to be generally very “testy”. They can be both clingy and contrary. They leave you wondering what you are supposed to do. These times are times when major jumps in independence are taking place. They are difficult to get through but it should help to know that your child will be a stronger individual after each one of these periods. Some of the major periods of this behavior are the famous “terrible twos” and the ‘teen years”.  They are noted because they are especially difficult but these times are major steps forward in independence. If you think about it, your child’s job is to become an independent, productive adult and this is a scary thing. Their behavior seems unreasonable but it is simply testing their safety net and their ability to cope with the next level. Both levels are accompanied by rapid physical changes and major changes in social expectations.  There are many other periods (of increasing length as the child gets older) where you have this phenomenon in a milder form. Three are in infancy and will be discussed below.
The first occurs when the lenses of the eyes clear (around 4 months of age).  A baby’s world suddenly becomes much bigger.  At this time, your baby may seem distracted during routine tasks, e.g. feeding and diaper changing. There may be changes in sleep patterns including less nap time. Baby may seem a little clingy to you at this time. As the world expands, she needs to know that you are there to support her as she discovers the rest of the world out there. She may express fear at new things or fast moving animals or people. This phase usually passes quickly as baby recognizes and catalogues her “new” environment and routines get back on track.
The next period like this occurs when mobility begins. This is a bigger step and the response is bigger. In fact, it has been called “Stranger Anxiety”. Babies cling to their parents and seem afraid of people they do not know.  Babies at this age will move away from their parent but will continually check to see that the parent is there. If they lose sight of their familiar people the panic. They can be very brave if they trust that their support will be there. They will even approach unfamiliar people in a short time if you are present and the “stranger” does not approach them and they see that you are alright with the person.
Walking provides a third period of great expansion of a baby’s world and a period where baby may express insecurity. At about the time they begin to walk, babies revert to clinginess again. In addition, babies may try to do things that they know you do not want them to do, such as climbing up stairs or playing with electric outlets. They will do this in front of you while checking for a reaction from you because they want to insure that you are there, watching out for them.
Handling these early periods by being supportive and firm, especially while keeping him safe, (for security) while encouraging your little one to explore his expanding world will help him trust you to guide him through those later, bigger moves towards independence that you will both face as he grows into a confident, productive adult.
A few of the article used for this post: