Month: April 2020

Falling Asleep and Staying Asleep 

Did you know that kids typically need at least 12 hours of sleep each night? Sleep is important to help improve focus and brain function! But what if your tot won’t fall asleep or stay asleep? Here are some simple tips to help your child get the rest and recovery they need to be happy and healthy.

  1. MOVE
    1. Provide lots of opportunities for heavy work and gross motor movement throughout the day (push, pull, climb, jump, squeeze) – but about 1 hour before bed, switch gears to more quiet playtime in order to ‘wind down’
    2. Provide slow, rhythmic movements either in a rocking chair or a blanket right before bed 
  2. TOUCH
    1. Give your child a warm bath before bedtime
    2. Give ‘deep squeezes’ or firm hugs before bedtime
    3. Provide heavy blankets, body pillows, or stuffed animals to squeeze in order to provide deep pressure (not recommended for infants)
    1. Play soft, calming music (classical music or calming nature sounds)
    2. Read a bedtime story to your child in a soft voice 
  4. SMELL
    1. Lavender helps calm the body – use this in the bath or an air diffuser in the room
  5. TASTE
    1. Avoid caffeine or sugary foods/drinks close to bedtime 
    2. Drink warm water or milk before bed (but make sure to go to the bathroom before falling asleep!)
  6. LOOK
    1. Keep shades drawn and room dimly lit upon entering before bed to lessen visual stimuli
    2. Limit screen time (T.V., tablets, phones) before bed
    1. Provide a dim night light so the room isn’t too dark 
    2. Leave bedroom door cracked open 
    3. Provide a security object (blanket or stuffed animal)
    4. Place the mattress on the floor if your child is afraid of heights
    5. Use bed rails or body pillows to increase safety 

The most important thing you can do is follow a consistent bedtime routine to help your child acclimate to a steady sleep/wake schedule. If these tips aren’t helping, BDI Playhouse Children’s Therapy offers free screenings to give your child the necessary tools to help fall asleep and stay asleep. 

Written by: Jade Pellerito, Occupational Therapist

How to Support Siblings of Special Needs Kids

Have you ever heard “It’s not fair; he gets all the attention” or “You never have time for me?” Are you dealing with siblings of special needs kids that are acting out or misbehaving as a means of getting your attention?  Do you ever refrain from disciplining them out of guilt?  If you have experienced any of these reactions… you are not alone! This dynamic can happen in neurotypical families but in families with special needs children, it may be even more prevalent.  From therapy and doctor appointments, IEP meetings, and your child’s dependence on you for daily needs it may be challenging to find a balance for the whole family.  The following strategies may help get your family back on track!

#1  Feelings, feelings, and more feelings! 

It’s important to encourage all your children, not just the siblings of special needs kids, to share their feelings and equally important to let them know that their feelings are valid; no right or wrong.  Sometimes children have a  difficult time processing what they are feeling.  As parents, we can teach them this by being a model for them.  E.g. “Mommy is feeling frustrated because I didn’t get to finish my housework today.”,   or  “You seem disappointed because your brother ruined your lego creation.” 

Recognizing and verbalizing feelings can be a challenge for kids and adults. 

Many children learn well from a visual aid. There are many games on the market that teach feelings such as Emotion-oes mood flipbooks and photo feelings decks. Get creative with some fun activities you can do together such as drawing faces or practicing making faces.

#2 Empower your child to be a “leader” for their special needs sibling.

 Studies have shown that children are capable of learning a great deal when they have a peer model.  Who better to do this than a sibling?  Providing guided opportunities for siblings to take on a “leader” or “model” role can also foster a loving and closer relationship between them. It is important to give your child the choice rather than forcing the “leader” role upon them.  This provides the opportunity for a more valuable role to be established by the sibling. At BDI Playhouse, we strongly value sibling relationships and often include siblings of special needs kids in our therapy to model play, language, and motor skills and to enhance relationships. 

#3 Create a “toolbox” of special activities

Activity bags/task boxes can be created ahead of time and used on special occasions (e.g. fine motor boxes, sorting, matching, counting, sensory play, etc) with siblings. Try engaging your child in a previously prepared activity while you assist your other child in tele-therapy or e-learning activities. When my children were little they loved to build forts in their bedrooms for a unique play place.  Encourage this creativity with your children.  While possibly messy, this activity will provide hours of enjoyment for the kids and a perfect time for you to support your other children OR time for YOURSELF. 

#4 Schedule special bonding time or special routines. Remember the quality vs. quantity.  Small gestures can go a long way.  Some of my family’s favorites were… early morning walks, surprise snuggles with mom/dad in the morning, reading together in a special place, and individualized bedtime routines.  Kids thrive on this special bonding!

Ever feel like your child misbehaves because their special needs sibling “gets away with it?” As a parent, we have the choice of feeling guilty about different expectations for different children or empowering those siblings to grow up understanding that we are all unique and have different capabilities.  Giving in to misbehaviors can set the stage for increased negative behaviors, so consistency is key! Children depend on the structure and need stability within expectations, especially when things become challenging.  

At BDI Playhouse, our Speech and Occupational therapists would love to work alongside you to help build a flourishing relationship between your children and to help you optimize your time with all your kids.  Our Occupational therapists can provide assistance with the management of daily routines for the family, foster positive client interaction between siblings, and facilitate increased independence of daily living skills for your special needs child, to allow more focus on siblings’ needs.  Our Speech-language Pathologists can help to grow social and language skills for your child to help foster improved relationships with the whole family. Contact BDI Playhouse to set up a free consultation.

By Sheila Trout M.A.; CCC-SLP  Speech-Language Pathologist at BDI Playhouse Children’s Therapy 

bike riding for kids

Is Your Child Ready to Ride? The Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching Bike Riding

Is Your Child Ready for Bike Riding?

There are few things in life that beat the rush of the wind through your hair as you pedal down the street on your bike. Bike riding is a pleasure, a privilege, and a confidence builder for our kids! 

For some, learning to ride a bike can be a challenge. For others, it can be an extreme feat to overcome. In order to properly ride a bike, a child must have a strong trunk in coordination with their movement and balance system to stay upright, coordinate pedaling opposite sides of their body in time with the pedal movements, and use their eyes and hands together to steer the bike. With so much going on, the joy of bike riding is not experienced by all. With a few good ideas though, it can be fun and successful!

The Bike Riding Ready-to-Ride Test:

  • Can your child independently walk their bike out of the garage, down the driveway, and then turn it around and come back to you?
  • Can your child climb on and off of their bike independently? The child’s leg should be able to swing over the rear tire to sit down without any help to hold the bike up or keep their balance.

These two skills tell us that your child has the balance, vision and motor coordination, body and environmental awareness, and strength that will be needed to succeed with bike riding. If those skills are not present, and children similar to your child’s age are riding, it’s a good idea to consult a Pediatric Physical or Occupational therapist for help.

Do you have the proper safety equipment and does the bike fit your child?

We would recommend consulting with a local small business bike store owner. Local bike shops often have an expert on staff who can make sure you are starting with the right size bike and helmet and that the bike is in safe operating condition.

Tips to Teach Bike Riding Successfully:


  1. “Pick”-ture perfect: Your child will be more excited about riding their bike if they have had some say in what bike they will be riding! Things to consider when purchasing a bike include the size of the bike based on your child’s height and weight, and the weight of the bike in comparison to your child’s strength and size. If you are using a hand-me-down bike, have your child help decorate (stickers, streamers, paint) to make it their own.
  2. How it works: Your child will love taking part in the maintenance of their bicycle, including pumping up the tires, checking the breaks, moving the kickstand, and cleaning it. The more understanding a child has about how something works, the more approachable the activity!
  3. Starting Slow: Have your child become familiar with the bicycle and how it moves while walking alongside the bike and holding the handlebars. This slow introduction allows the child to gain confidence in their strength to hold up the bike, ability to steer the bike with both hands, and move the bike around general obstacles they will face in a safe and slow manner.
  4. Climb on and off: Your child will need to make a brand new motor plan for getting on and off the bike. Practicing coordination and strength to do so, will be a good warm-up!
  5. Fake a fall: With your child seated on the bike, allow them to have both feet on the pedals while you support them, and tip side to side. Kids feel safe when they have practiced the “fall” and understand that putting feet down will stop their topple!
  6. Glide guidance: While seated on the bicycle, let your child have feet on the ground and push with their feet to glide along the ground. Learning the balance component without having to worry about coordinating feet for pedaling is a great starter skill!
  7. Hang onto the hips: When practicing moving on the bike, let your child be in control of the bike while you support them by holding onto your child’s belly/hips instead of the bicycle. They will be more confident in their skills when they move the bike rather than you, and they will get a hang of balancing more quickly with less and less support as you practice.
  8. Another Adult: Feel open towards having someone else work with your child on bike riding. Both fear and excitement around bike riding bring big emotions into the situation. Sometimes having someone else work on these skills with your child might be just what you both need to gain skills and confidence.


  1. Bike banter: If your child is fearful about bike riding, don’t talk about bike riding! Allow for opportunities to engage with the bike, but take the pressure off! More talk about bike riding might turn your child off to the activity altogether.
  2. Asking again: If your child is nervous about learning to ride, don’t ask them about it. Their response will be “no” they don’t want to ride their bike. With time, most kids will want to learn to ride the bike. Slow and steady introduction rather than asking is the way to get their investment in riding.
  3. Expectation “easy”: Don’t tell your child that they will learn to ride their bike “today.” For some kids, that high expectation will seem unattainable and the will-to-try will fade quickly. If they aren’t able to learn bike riding quickly, they will feel disappointed and will be reluctant to try another time.
  4. DIY: Your child wants to learn to ride their bike BY THEMSELF. When you provide all the support, it will not foster learning the skill. It will teach them to rely on your support and prolong the learning process. Let them figure out how to balance, pedal, and turn without doing the “riding” yourself.
  5. Panic Problems: Your child reacts to situations based on your reactions. No one likes to see their child fall or tumble, but a panicked or upset reaction to difficulty will only stress you both out. Do your best to stay positive and relaxed yourself in order to keep your child’s spirits up!
  6. Helmets: Don’t forget a helmet! Even if your child isn’t ready for high speeds, head injuries can happen. Take every effort to make all bike riding experiences SAFE! 

Your child will be cruising down the block in their bicycle in no time, and the smile on their faces will be worth every moment of the learning process.

If your child is not yet able to ride their bike, BDI therapists are here to help! We are trained in movement and activity analysis. We can pinpoint where the difficulty may lie for your child, and provide you with the support you need to get those wheels spinning. Contact BDI Playhouse for a free consultation, and let the bike riding begin!

By: Maggie Lord, MS, OTR/L with contributions from the Occupational and Physical Therapy team at BDI Playhouse Children’s Therapy

child routine

When in quarantine, keep your kids in routine!

Why is Routine in Quarantine Important?

We are in the midst of a great time of uncertainty, one we never would have fathomed in our lifetime we would see. As adults, we are processing a myriad of emotions including confusion, anger, fear, sadness or possibly even joy as we savor the extra moments with our family. Luckily, as adults, we have learned how to cope with these feelings in an organized manner which helps get us through day after day (most of the time) and adapt to a new daily routine.  But our little one’s lives have turned upside down too, and they are just learning to cope with these emotions. We as adults have to recognize the emotions our children are feeling and continue to give them the tools to cope with our new, temporary way of life.  

What can sadness look like in your child?

  • Anger
  • Defiance
  • Tiredness
  • Displaced frustration
  • Boredom 
  • Sense of disconnection

No need to fear if any of this looks familiar with your child.  Here are some simple ways to get your child back on track!

  1. Maintain a routine.  Kids thrive off of structure as it gives them a sense of security, control, help establish positive habits and healthy relationships.  Keep your child’s bedtime, wake time, breakfast, lunch and dinner time consistent with your normal routine. A visual schedule, whether written or illustrated with pictures, can be an easy way for your child what to expect throughout the day.  
  2. Incorporate plenty and even extra time for gross motor play or outdoor play.  While engaging their whole body and large muscles through play, they are receiving input to their proprioceptive sensory systems which is responsible for emotional regulation and arousal level. 
  3. Keep electronic/device time to a minimum.  Many of us are facing the added new parental challenge of working from home with our kids present.  It seems an easy fix to keep them independently engaged is to allow extra screen time. However, they are only missing out of opportunities to grow socially, cognitively, and emotionally.  Encourage them to play a game with a sibling, create art, build and invent. This will facilitate problem-solving skills, turn-taking and symbolic thinking necessary for growth across all domains.  
  4. Create task boxes or busy bags.  It’s as simple as gathering plastic boxes, bags, etc. and gathering activities and materials necessary for a specific activity and place in bin.  Keep the activity simple and structured for your child to easily access independently. Some examples may include, color sorting paper clips, pom poms, or buttons into corresponding containers; various note cards with alphabet letters written on each card along with clothespins to match upper and lower case letters; or small, simple lego designs printed out to build different structures.  
  5. Listen to music.  Take a walk. Do breathing exercises.  Or other mindfulness exercises you can do together with your kiddo.  Take a sensory break and focus on things you both see, smell, taste, touch and hear.  Engaging your senses increases body awareness and help manage our emotions. 
  6. Decrease mindless eating.  Remember that daily routine?  This adheres to an eating schedule as well.  Most kids are used to eating breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, an afternoon snack, and dinner.  Keep dessert and other sugary sweets limited throughout the week. Make sure your child is getting proper nutrition as science shows a connection between brain-gut and releasing endorphins, our feel good hormones.  Also, make sure your child is drinking plenty of water to decrease mindless snacking and hunger.
  7. Engage your child in daily occupations.  Have them get dressed daily, make their bed, help complete household chores, assist in preparing meals, garden, rake, help with putting groceries away, setting the table or call a family member.  Occupations are any type of activity that gives meaning to a person’s life. 

Remember, we are all in this together and our children’s emotions are vulnerable.  Use this complex time in our lives to make the most of learning experiences for our children.  Doing so will make them emotionally, mentally and physically stronger in the long run. We are all in this together. Stay strong and stay healthy, keep going, you got this. 

Written by: Jamie Blough

Potty Training Problems? 5 Strategies to Help your Child Avoid Bladder or Bowel “Accidents” 

Is your child still having potty training problems? Bowel and bladder accidents that persist after training or make potty training difficult, could have an underlying cause.

Researchers have found that 40-60% of children complete toilet training by the age of 3 and 25% of 5 year old children experience day or night accidents. Experiencing “accidents” in potty-trained kids is not a normal part of development. Constipation, discomfort with restrooms at schools, poor diet, and lack of exercise are some of the most common reasons a child can experience bladder or bowel accidents. 

Diet: Constipation can be one of the causes of bladder/bowel accidents. It is important for children of all ages to maintain a balanced diet. Fiber intake and enough fluid are important to help with bowel movements. To determine the appropriate amount of fiber a child should consume is to add the child’s age plus 5. For example, a child that is 4 years old should be consuming an average of 9 grams of fiber daily. Remember to increase fiber intake gradually and never increase fiber intake without increasing fluid intake. Picky eating can impact children’s ability to consume enough fiber and fluids.

Posture: The position children assume on the potty is also very important to help the appropriate muscles relax to make peeing and pooping successful. Make sure your child uses a stool to support his feet. Their knees should be slightly higher than their hips and the child should lean forward with their arms rested on their knees. Encourage your child to say “shhh” or “grr” instead of straining. This will help to relax potty muscles. 

Exercise: Children with poor postural and breathing control have increased chances of having “accidents”. Exercising helps to increase the strength of muscles responsible for posture and breathing. Some exercises that can be done to strengthen these muscles are: frog jumps, sit-ups, squats, diaphragm breathing and breathing into a straw. 

Voiding schedule: On average, a child that is 1-2 years old voids urine every two hours. At age 12, voiding is 5-7 times per day. Children should have a bowel movement at least every other day, depending on what he/she eats. Parents can keep a log to determine the frequency of voiding during the day. Record the number of Bristol Stool Scale, if there was pain with poop, and the number of daytime and/or nighttime accidents. Using a schedule helps to track progress, motivates the child, and increases communication between parents and children. 

Colon Massage: Colon massage helps to stimulate the gastrocolic reflex. Children who have constipation may have a delayed response to this reflex. The best time to perform colon massage is a few minutes after a meal, ideally at the same time every day. Colon massage is performed in the direction the poop moves in the colon. Start by having your child lay down, place your fingers in the right lower abdomen, and apply firm pressure (NO pushing down). Then move your fingers upward toward the ribcage, towards the left side, and downward to left lower abdomen. You can repeat this movement 10-15 times.  

If your child continues to have bowel/bladder accidents after trying these strategies, therapists at BDI Playhouse In Orland Park and Naperville, IL are here to help your child and family have an accident-free day and night. 


Hodges, S.J. It’s no accident: Breakthrough solutions to your child’s wetting, constipation, UTI’s, and other potty problems. 2012. Lyons Press; Guilford, Connecticut.

How Sign Helps Babies Learn Language

Babies are the best little learners. Finding new ways to play and explore the world around them. They often understand much more than they can show or say.  Speech develops later because babies have not yet developed the finite muscles to produce sounds. However, that doesn’t mean your baby can’t learn to communicate. It is a perfect time to teach them sign language known as “baby sign”. 

5 Ways Baby sign can help you and your baby:

  1. Fosters language development: Signing helps develop and encourages verbal language development. A child is thought to need to hear (or see!) a word +1000 times before they learn to use that word.
  2. Multisensory: Babies explore with their entire bodies. Signing provides a visual model, along with your verbal model, for even better learning.
  3. Decrease frustrations: Provides babies a way to show you what they want before they can say it and helps you meet your child’s needs.
  4. It’s fun: Your baby loves everything you do!! What a great way to show them how to communicate and play with them. Add silly faces and watch your baby’s enjoyment!!
  5. Increases interaction: Including sign into your daily communication with baby will aid in parent and child bonding as you learn together how a baby sign can add to your relationship.

If you are interested in learning more about baby signs and how it can help your baby learn language, please tune into our baby sign class online, or call for a free consultation!!

Madeline Connor, Speech-Language Pathologist