Written by Julie Higginbotham, Senior Case Coordinator, Mecklenburg County CDSA
We have officially started our third year of hosting Table Talk Wednesday events here in Mecklenburg County – yay us! After getting iced out back in February, we knew we wanted to try again and talk about assistive technology and how to use what families have in their homes before moving on to more formal equipment options. Diane Jackson-Szymczyk, Physical Therapist with Carolina Kids Therapy, and Tina McGill, Service Coordinator at the Mecklenburg County CDSA, started us off on the right foot by talking about all of the “bright, creative minds in the room” so we could share our own experiences with using things families already have to help make their routines more successful.
Before we get into the great ideas we discussed, though, let’s focus on the bigger picture here – parents are resourceful, and sometimes they don’t realize just how amazing they are. We talk so much about coaching interactions and using reflective questions to help families meet their needs, and assistive technology brings no exception. With everything we do, we need to make sure that we’re giving families opportunities to talk through their ideas, taking time during visits to let them show us what they’ve already figured out. I was so proud of the folks at this event because, at every turn, people kept saying that they learn so much from families they serve and how just a little encouragement and validation can go so far in helping families see their own strengths and abilities. They might even open up and talk about other thoughts they’ve had that they may not have said out loud otherwise. Every need doesn’t require a piece of equipment, even if it exists – take a look at what our “bright, creative minds” shared with the group about things families might already have to use to meet their needs.
*Note – The group talked a lot about how safety and family education have to be at the forefront at every step of the game. One person even talked about a family who would say, “Tell me if this is dangerous…” when showing her what they had figured out to help their child move around more efficiently. While these are some pretty cool ideas, each family is going to be different, each child’s needs are going to be different, and these aren’t meant to be taken out of the context of the family’s unique needs and routines. Now, read on, friends. 🙂 **
- The Laundry Basket – This is such a great tool that can meet all kinds of needs! Here were some ideas….
- Parents can sit kids in a laundry basket for more support so they can walk away without worrying that they’ll fall over and get hurt.
- Some kids like “heavy work” activities, so they can help move groceries or laundry by pushing it around the house, or they can move it as they clean up their toys.
- For slippery bath time, families can use a laundry basket for more support, or even use it as the actual bathtub.
- A laundry basket can even be turned on its side – add some padding and hang some toys from the opposite side, and there you have it, a baby play gym!
- The Push Toy that Runs Away – Oh dear, we’ve all seen the child who’s learning to walk, trying to keep up with the push toy that won’t meet them where they are (how rude!). We had some clever fixes, including…
- Rubber bands around the wheels, helping to slow them down;
- Ankle or wrist weights on the toy to help counterbalance the child’s weight against it; or
- Duct tape, sticky side out, so it will give a little more resistance and stop more quickly with the child.
- The Couch – This is so versatile….
- Cushions and couch pillows can make a great support for new sitters.
- Taking the cushions off the couch can lower the height for little ones who are learning to pull up, but aren’t quite tall enough to use the couch effectively or safely.
- Some parents may want to use the cushions for jumping or obstacle courses.
- Pool Noodles – Aside from the fact that it’s funny to think about noodles in a pool, these things are pretty versatile. For example…
- A child who’s learning to walk can hold on to one end while the parents hold the other. It can give some security while building strength, endurance, and confidence.
- Families can also make a game out of them by gently shifting their child’s balance, tug-of-war style.
- Pool noodles are great for keeping little ones safe when you slice them down one side. They fit nicely along coffee tables to cushion falls and along the tops of doors to prevent smashed fingers.
- The Ever-Flexible Towel/Blanket – My goodness, how many ways can we use this? To name a few, a family can…
- Roll up a towel to help a little one fit better in a Boppy pillow until she’s big enough to use it on her own (or even stack one Boppy on top of another to bring supports a little higher!);
- Use the rolled-up towel by itself under a baby’s arms to create a Boppy without having to purchase one; or
- Tuck a towel behind the couch cushion so it covers the seat if it’s too slippery or doesn’t have enough fabric for a child to grab.
- A Few Other Randoms – Aren’t there always some things that can just stand alone?
- Scarves as extra straps to provide a little more support
- Cans of soup in a high chair seat to keep a child from sliding out
- Using a toothbrush if a spoon is too heavy (because the child already knew how to bring a toothbrush to his mouth)
- Ice cube trays to help kids learn to use their fingers during feeding
- Using a sock with a hole just big enough for the child’s two fingers to come out to keep the other fingers out of the way during feeding
- Using a “scrunchy” (does that word make me old?!?) or sewing pants legs together to help keep knees closer when the child is crawling
- Chip bags that provide that crunchy sound kids love (This one was funny because it was prompted by one of our attendees’ opening a fabulous snack that we provide at all of the events!)
- And, well, Pinterest, YouTube, and the internet. Need we say more?!?
** Here’s the other note – sometimes, you just need a more formal piece of equipment to help achieve an outcome on the IFSP, and that’s OK. ** That’s exactly why we have it – assistive technology is a formal Infant-Toddler Program service, just like PT, OT, or SLP supports. As professionals, it’s our job to see what we can do first and empower families to be creative and think outside the box. There are amazing resources for more formal options if you need them – reach out locally to make sure you’re getting the most out of whatever loan or funding options are available in your area. IFSP teams need to be talking as, well, a team in order to make decisions about kinds of equipment may be needed to meet the outcomes on the IFSP. How often, though, can we just do some brainstorming with the family and look around to see what we can do, in the moment, to support that family and get them moving along toward those more successful routines? Leave us a comment – we know you have even more ideas to share, and we want to learn from you!
Join us when we get together on September 16, 2015 to talk about the fact that We Can’t Forget About Dad and how we can be more intentional about including his perspective in early intervention services.