Creating a Backyard Sanctuary for Kids with Disabilities


Having room to explore and play is important for the development of every child. Kids of all abilities need to have a place to discover, learn, and experience their world. Play is such an essential part of child development that the United Nations has declared play to be a basic human right for children.

One of the best ways to foster play is to help your child get outside. Thinking of ways to make your child’s play more active and engaging offers an advantage in strong, sustained and healthy development. Start by taking a good look around your outside space and consider ways to develop an inclusive sanctuary for children with all abilities.

Turning to television, smartphones, or tablets for entertainment can be easy and addictive for both children and parents. Supervised and timed technology play can serve a purpose, especially for kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but it will never be a good substitute for time outside. Encouraging your child to play outdoors will help lower stress, increase attention span, improve vision, and build social skills. Plus, that extra boost of vitamin D will be an added benefit.

Click here to read more on HomeAdvisor.






Holly BushnellCreating a Backyard Sanctuary for Kids with Disabilities
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Tips for Managing Meltdowns

Summer meltdowns can be all too familiar to parents of children with special needs—especially children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Changes in routine, group activities, and even heat can exacerbate meltdowns. And, unlike a tantrum, a meltdown is usually an involuntary response to sensory overload and not a cry for attention.

Here are five ideas to help you avoid or deal with a dreaded meltdown.

Avoid sensory triggers

Triggers can be different for every child, so it might help to take notes about what caused a meltdown to occur. Identifying the stimuli can help you dodge chancy situations, or find ways to avoid the parts of the activity that causes the most problems. For example, take earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to fireworks shows to dampen loud noises, drive instead of taking a crowded bus, or leave the store to find a more soothing environment.

Know the signs

One key strategy is to get to know your child’s signs of distress. Does he put his hands over his ears? Does she increase self-stimulatory behaviors like rocking, humming, hand flapping, etc.? Does he run from the room or say “Go!” or “Leave!”? These signs of your child’s distress can help you understand when your child is becoming overstimulated and needs help getting regulated.

Distract or redirect

If you can see a meltdown building, try doing something that usually makes your child happy. Your goal should be to focus on something that is comforting but not over-stimulating. For example, sing a favorite song, play a little game, or make silly faces.

Try to stay calm

Although it may be tempting to raise your voice or talk louder as the meltdown progresses, it’s best to talk in a soft, calming voice and avoid big or quick movements. Take deep breaths and take a few seconds to assess the situation. If possible, stop what you were doing and focus on helping your child calm down. Use simple language and short sentences and avoid forceful behavior.

Prepare a meltdown kit

Keep an emergency kit with you to help defuse a meltdown. Choose things that your child is already familiar with and has used to cope with stress in the past. It’s better to practice when your child is calm and already understands the coping strategy. You could include items like a favorite soft animal or fidget toy, aromatherapy oils or lotion, noise-cancelling headphones, or a weighted blanket or lap pad. You could also include a chewy or crunchy snack and some unscented hand wipes to help if the stimuli is tactile. A wide-brimmed hat or cap can offer some relief from social interactions, and a pair of sunglasses can reduce bright light.

We hope some of these tips will help you and your child manage or avoid meltdowns. What other techniques do you use? Please share in the comments below!






Holly BushnellTips for Managing Meltdowns
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Five Summer Activities for Children with Special Needs

Changes in routine, too much free time, and lack of consistent activities can sometimes make summer a challenging time for families with a child on the autism spectrum.

The good news is that for children with ASD, summer activities can serve a dual purpose: along with keeping your child active and engaged in the summer, planned activities can give your child chance to explore color, shape, and sensory experiences that will stimulate attention, help foster self-calming, and make summer enjoyable!

Here are 5 ideas to help you launch a summer of fun.

Take a Train Ride

Trains can be a popular topic with children on the autism spectrum. It could be the spinning of the wheels that speaks to their sensory interests, or the rhythmic and repetitive noise and motion. And young kids are often exposed to trains in popular books and television programs. But whatever the reason, riding a real train could be a fun summer activity.

It could be fun to find a train that goes up a mountain, or find a scenic train ride to see the countryside. But just as fun may be a ride on the local train to the city and back. In Utah, you could try riding the light rail system (Trax) or jump on the faster Frontrunner commuter train and watch as the towns fly by. There are also a few trains in amusements parks (like Lagoon) or the Heber Valley Railroad that offers breathtaking view of Mt. Timpanogos and the dramatic, glacier-carved landscape of Provo Canyon.

Try Some Good Old Fashioned Outdoor Play

Outdoor play is stimulating for children of all abilities, specifically those who need a little extra help developing gross motor skills. Try some of the traditional childhood games to promote whole body movement and balance. Great games to try are Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or Hopscotch. Or, get active with a great game of freeze tag or hide and seek. Even a game of follow the leader can be a fun activity and can help kids learn new movements. Plus, you might get nostalgic for your own sunny childhood.

Tent It Up

A simple backyard tent is a great way to create a fantasyland with your little one without ever leaving home! You can rig it up with string between trees and draped sheets, or set up a small camping tent as a sensory cave. Tent play can keep our child occupied for hours, plus tents can be comforting as a retreat when a child with ASD just needs a little quiet time. Add calming light with a flashlight or glow stick and bring out lots of soft pillows and blankets or sleeping bags to make it comfortable and calming.

Make an Obstacle Course

It’s fun to make up an obstacle course with objects or items you have already at home. Try using tape to make a balancing line, or inexpensive pool noodles to make barriers to jump over or a path to follow. Hula hoops make great places jump into and jump ropes make good starting lines or edge markers. Try bean bag toss or stacking big blocks. 

You could have several stops along the path with instructions about walking like animals. For example, have your child hop like a frog, slither like a snake, prance like a unicorn, walk like a crab, or jump like a kangaroo.

Catch Some Bubbles

Chasing bubbles is a great way for kids to practice their gross motor skills. You can give different directions to have your child catch a bubble on their head, break one in their hand, or jump on them as they settle to the ground. For kids with mobility issues use a pool noodle to swat the bubbles or a rolled up newspaper to act like a bubble bat.

Don’t forget, this is your summer too!

Even though you spend a lot of time and energy keeping your child occupied and happy during the summer, always keep in mind that summer is for everyone! Try to find activities that are interesting to you too and find things that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Look for an outdoor festival, an easy hike, or a beautiful sculpture garden. Sometimes even your local pool can do the trick. But whatever you plan, remember to create a few great summer memories of your own along the way.


Written by Sara Madsen, BCBA

Sara Madsen is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or BCBA at Kids Who Count. She oversees and supervises all of the ABA treatments for the children we serve on the autism spectrum. She is currently in the PhD program in Applied Behavior Analysis at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She loves the outdoors—fishing and camping—and is a Utah Jazz fan.






Holly BushnellFive Summer Activities for Children with Special Needs
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Figuring out the alphabet soup of autism

Many families who seek help for a child with development delays or who get an autism diagnosis are faced with a whole bowl full of acronyms or “alphabet soup,” as we like to call it. The vocabulary can be intimidating, the abbreviations mystifying, and the labels confusing. We even get stumped ourselves once in a while.

Because our autism program is brand new, it’s the perfect time to help demystify some of the jargon so prevalent in the autism, disability, and special education community.

So, let’s get started with a few of the basics.

What is behavior analysis?

Behavior analysis is a natural science that seeks to understand the behavior of individuals. That is, behavior analysts study how biological, pharmacological, and experiential factors influence the behavior of humans and nonhuman animals.

What is applied behavior analysis or ABA?

Used as a scientific approach to understanding different behavior, applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a method of therapy used to improve or change specific behaviors. In simple terms, ABA changes the environment in order to change the behavior. It’s not just used to correct bad behavior. While we often think of the word “behavior” as meaning bad behavior, that’s not always the case. In reference to ABA therapy, behavior is what we do and how we act. ABA therapy is used to improve behaviors like social skills, reading, academics, and communication as well as learned skills like grooming, hygiene, fine motor dexterity, job proficiency and even simple things like a child dressing herself.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior including social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life.

There is not just one type of autism, but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

What is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or BCBA?

A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is a graduate-level certification in behavior analysis. Professionals who are certified at the BCBA level are independent practitioners who provide behavior-analytic services. In addition, BCBAs supervise the work of Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT), and others who implement behavior-analytic interventions.

Our BCBA will complete an assessment of your child’s skills and preferences and use this analysis to write specific treatment goals for both your child and your family. Your child’s treatment program will be individualized to address their unique needs, skills, interests, as well as the situation in your family.

Currently at Kids Who Count we have one full-time BCBA on our staff.

What is a Registered Behavior Technician or RBT?

A Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) is a paraprofessional who practices under the close, ongoing supervision of a BCBA. The RBT is primarily responsible for the direct implementation of behavior-analytic services. The RBT does not design intervention or assessment plans. It is the responsibility of the RBT supervisor to determine which tasks an RBT may perform as a function of his or her training, experience, and competence.

Our Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) will work directly with your child to apply the principles of ABA to teach language, social skills, self-care, play and learning.

Currently at Kids Who Count we have two part-time RBTs on our staff.

What will by child’s ABA instruction play look like?

An ABA instruction plan will break down skills into small, concrete steps—taught one-by-one. Your child’s RBT will start with simple activities (like imitating single sounds) to learning more complex skills like carrying on a conversation.

The BCBA and your child’s RBT will collect data and measure progress so they can continue to help your child move toward goals and benchmarks. Your Kids Who Count team will meet regularly with you and your family to review progress with specific goals and objectives and adjust the treatment plan as necessary.

We want to help!

We’re always more than happy to help if you come across an acronym you’re unfamiliar with or some words or jargon that don’t make sense. Don’t be afraid to ask!

At Kids Who Count, we envision a community where children and families have access to local services that promote positive change and give children with autism spectrum disorder a chance to reach their unique individual potential. We hope we can help you!


Written by Sara Madsen, BCBA

Sara Madsen is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or BCBA at Kids Who Count. She oversees and supervises all of the ABA treatments for the children we serve on the autism spectrum. She is currently in the PhD program in Applied Behavior Analysis at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She loves the outdoors—fishing and camping—and is a Utah Jazz fan.






Holly BushnellFiguring out the alphabet soup of autism
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Your Child’s Developmental Milestones

The first three years are a critical time in your child’s development. Becoming familiar with milestones—or things most children do by a certain age—will help give you clues about your infant or toddler’s development. Each child is unique, and not all kids are going to hit milestones at the same time, but if you have concerns or questions, don’t wait to take action.

Free CDC Milestone Tracker App

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is an excellent resource to learn more about specific milestones for children 2 months to 5 years of age. The CDC “Learn the Signs. Act Early” campaign materials describe milestones in all areas of development for specific age groups.

The CDC Milestone Checklist and FREE Milestone Tracker App provide great information to help you identify your baby’s important milestones. Click here for the Milestone Checklist.

The CDC’s free Milestone Tracker App can be found here:

CDC Milestone Tracker App CDC Milestone Tracker App SPANISH

If your child is under age 3 and you have any concerns about your child’s development, don’t wait. Contact Kids Who Count or the early intervention program in your area. We provide a complete developmental evaluation, at no cost to you, to determine if your child is eligible for early intervention services.

Intervention can help to put you on the path to getting the help your child may need. Services could include physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, social work, nursing, and nutrition. The sooner we start, the better.


Written by Kelsey Lewis, Executive Director

Kelsey Lewis is the Executive Director of Kids Who Count and is a dedicated advocate for resources and policies that improve the lives of children and families. For nearly 20 years Kelsey has worked as a nonprofit leader developing teams and leading programs that improve the lives of children and families. She received her Masters of Social Work from the University of Utah. She lives with her husband and her two very active and accomplished teenagers.






Holly BushnellYour Child’s Developmental Milestones
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Bedtime Routines: How To Get Your Toddler To Sleep

Bedtime with toddlers can be anything but routine, but having a regular nighttime schedule can make nights more pleasant and will help kids get the sleep they need to grow and develop. Tired tots can have a hard time handling life’s daily challenges—from losing their temper with siblings to figuring out their own bodily functions. Your little one doesn’t realize it, but she needs her sleep.

Some kids seem to be gurus of sleep while others struggle to unwind, but all children are influenced by their environment. The good news is, falling asleep is a habit that every kid can master.

Here are a few ways to make bedtime less challenging.

Be Consistent

Start by choosing an age-appropriate bedtime. The key is to choose a time well before the dreaded exhaustion stage. A good rule of thumb could be between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. for toddlers. Try to be as consistent as you can and stick pretty closely to your selected bedtime—even on weekends or on vacation when other routines may be compromised. Toddlers actually really love routine because they feel safe and secure when they know what’s coming next. This consistency will help your kiddo make the transition from day to night.

Plan your routine in advance and try to make it relatively compact—30 minutes should be plenty of time. It’s helpful to communicate this routine as often as you can to reinforce the boundaries. For example, your routine could look something like: quiet down, choose pajamas, brush your teeth, read a story, get some snuggles, go to sleep.

You could make a picture schedule to help your child know what’s coming next, then point to the picture of the step you’re on. It’s great if you can print out pictures of your child doing the activities themselves. (We’ve also included a printable PDF here to give you another simple chart idea.)

You could make a picture schedule to help your child know what’s coming next, then point to the picture of the step you’re on. It’s great if you can print out pictures of your child doing the activities themselves. (We’ve also included a printable PDF here to give you another simple chart idea.) DOWNLOAD PDF

Lead your child through the routine and talk to them about what’s going to happen. You could say something like: “Now we’re going to put on pajamas, then we’ll brush your teeth, and after that we’ll read a story.”

Quiet Down

Begin the unwinding process early—before their first yawn. Toddlers can have a difficult time with transitions, and going from tickle fights and racing around the house to falling asleep might take longer than you think. Start quieting down playtime a good hour before bedtime to give your kid a chance to relax. Enjoy the roughhousing and wrestling with dad earlier in the evening.

During quiet time, it’s best to switch off the TV and put away phones, tablets, and other screens. For children especially, it’s best to avoid screen time at least an hour before bedtime. Anything that emits blue light can suppress the body’s melatonin levels and make it harder to get to sleep. Although TV can seem like a good way to wind down, it can actually be stimulating. Better choices are quiet music or audiobooks, simple board games, coloring, or even light stretching or yoga to help your child calm down. Dimming the lights as a lead up to bedtime can help cue the body to release helpful sleep hormones.

Give Them a Choice

As a parent, you probably already know that toddlers don’t like to feel bossed around. Giving them choices during the bedtime routine can help them feel like they are in charge, but remember to limit the options to two or three. For example, let them choose between the pajamas with feet or the ones without, or choose between two sleepy-themed books for you to read.

Try to avoid scary stories or books with lots of excitement, and don’t add too much animation to your reading. You want to lull them to sleep, so if books are too exciting, you could try singing a lullaby or snuggling and talking about your day instead.

Give Your Routine an End

Once you’ve completed your bedtime routine, try to be consistent about expectations. Your child may test the boundaries by asking for more books, more cuddles, or more snacks, but be firm and help them understand that our bodies need rest. Let them know that you believe in them and know they can fall asleep. Turn on their special nightlight or give them their comforting blanket, then, kiss them goodnight and leave the room. It won’t be long until they associate these special cues with falling asleep and drift into dreamland.

Written by Annie Buck, OT

Annie Buck is an Occupational Therapist with Kids Who Count. She specializes in helping children with feeding and sensory delays. She lives in a houseful of boys. She and her husband have four sons, from 8-months-old to 7-years-old. Things are always loud at home with fun that usually involves someone wrestling someone else.





Holly BushnellBedtime Routines: How To Get Your Toddler To Sleep
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As a frazzled parent, you are probably pretty motivated to teach your child to feed him or herself—if for no other reason than to give you a chance to enjoy your own meal again. But the motivation goes beyond having a nice, relaxing dinner. Utensil use is a practical way to help your child develop early fine motor skills. Using utensils to eat can even help prepare your child to write.

Mastering the Grasp

Children need to acquire finger dexterity and strength along with hand-eye coordination. Mastering that all-important pincer grasp, where they isolate their finger and thumb, is important groundwork for many other skills they will use continually. The pincer grasp represents the coordination of brain and muscles that’s necessary to help them gain increasing independence. Utensil use doesn’t necessarily require a mature pincer grasp (at least not in the initial stages of holding a utensil), but it is a skill that is still very important for self-feeding and more advanced grasping. This may sound daunting, but kids will pick up most of these skills just through repeating daily activities. And, they will have a chance to practice at every meal.

Get Food to Mouth

To master the idea of utensil use, your child has to first understand the concept of moving food from the table to their mouth. Kids will usually start feeding themselves by using a raking motion to scoop food toward them, curling their fingers toward their palm. In these early stages, you can help them develop their pincer grasp when you start their meal by giving them a few individual pieces of food—like a puff or piece of banana—on their tray. Or hold one piece at a time out to them and don’t let go until they grasp it with their index finger and thumb. They should pick this skill up relatively quickly over several days, but it’s best to only practice this skill for a few minutes at the beginning of a meal. You don’t want them to get too frustrated while they are learning.

One fun way you can help your child with the utensil to mouth concept early on is to playfully touch around your child’s face and mouth (like cheeks or nose) with a spoonful of food. Often, your kid will turn toward the spoon and reach up to help grab it and then, they will try to bring the spoon into their mouth.

Bringing a spoon to their mouth requires a child to develop the same skills as for bringing toys to their mouth, so it is appropriate (and beneficial) for young children to bring toys, hands, feet (pretty much everything) to their mouths. If a child isn’t “mouthing” items it can be a red flag for underlying developmental and/or sensory delays. If you are worried about your child mastering this step, it would be appropriate to bring it up with the child’s doctor and/or an early intervention service.

Try Out a Spoon

The next step is introducing a spoon. At first, you can give them their own spoon to hold while you are feeding them so they will start to associate a spoon to eating. Foods that will stick to the spoon are great to learn with. Think mashed sweet potatoes or oatmeal. They may even try to put the spoon to their mouth, so give them lots of praise if they try this on their own.

You can give them their own bowl with a little food in it and see if they will try using it on their own. You can use two bowl for a while, giving them more and more food to eat on their own and feeding them less and less. Eventually, you can move to having only their bowl and helping them occasionally. Most kids will start to pick this up themselves, but if your child seems especially frustrated with self-feeding, you could help by putting your hand on top of their hand and moving food into their mouth together. Be sure to let them try on their own too, and keep it positive and fun.

If your child is not excited or interested in self-feeding (and they are at an age where it is expected) you can try a variety of spoons or other utensils. Sometimes the grip of a certain spoon isn’t comfortable to your child, so trying different spoons could help. You can get creative too. You could try supervising your child with toothpicks, popsicle sticks, straws, or even different foods as utensils, for example, string cheese or crackers. Sometimes simply switching up the utensil your child is using can make a world of difference.

Move On to a Fork

Once they have spoon-feeding down, you can introduce a safe toddler fork. The best toddler forks have soft, wide gripped handles with flat-tipped, metal tines to allow for stabbing. Place the fork on their tray with a few pieces of easy-to-poke food, like a chicken nugget or cube of soft cheese. If spearing gets frustrating, you can help them for a while like you did with the spoon.

With any of these new skills, don’t feel like you need to step in too quickly to help. Your child needs some time to learn at their own pace.

Embrace a Messy Situation

Things are going to get grimy, and you are going to have to be okay with that for a while. Otherwise, you’ll be playing a never-ending, crazy-making cleaning game. To make the inevitable mess more manageable, try using a floor mat under their chair and opt for a bib with a deep pocket to catch the food that escapes their spoon. Another trick is to only give them a small amount of food in their bowl at a time. And, suction bowls that stick to the table can help you avoid most of the predictable bowl-throwing incidents.

Keep in mind that playing with food and making a mess is all part of the process. If you get overly anxious about messes—and over vigilant about wiping your child’s face—you could inadvertently cause (or add to) tactile defensiveness and food aversions. The tactile stimulation your child gets from playing in messy textures gives them important feedback they can process and develop more sophisticated responses to. Your toddler will actively seek out these experiences as part of curiosity, discovery, and exploration.

And, keeping mealtime positive will go a long way. If you are constantly fighting to keep your kid from grabbing the spoon or trying to pin them down to wipe their face after each bite, mealtime might not feel very positive to your child.

For a reprieve from the mess that won’t inhibit sensory experiences, you could practice with imaginary food during playtime to help your child understand the concept. Try pretending to feed dolls or animals and give your child a lot of praise when they start mastering the spoon-to-mouth idea.

The good news is that the really messy stage is usually pretty short lived.

Written by Annie Buck, OT

Annie Buck is an Occupational Therapist with Kids Who Count. She specializes in helping children with feeding and sensory delays. She lives in a houseful of boys. She and her husband have four sons, from 8-months-old to 7-years-old. Things are always loud at home with fun that usually involves someone wrestling someone else.





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Four Ideas to Make Bath Time Less Stressful and More Fun!

Sometimes bathing a toddler can be like trying to hold a fish—a wiggly, giggly, slippery minnow that can even run away from you. Here are four ideas to help you make bath time less fishy.

Don’t Pass on Prep Time

Before trying to corral your kiddo, make sure you have everything you need within reach. Don’t forget to pull together towels, soap, shampoo, and the all-important toys. If you encourage your child to help gather the bath-time items, he or she will feel more included and can even learn some skills like planning ahead and organization and you’ll avoid your kid standing in a cold, wet puddle while you search for that special towel.

You can also include a build-up to bath time as part of your prep. Give your child a few minutes warning in the lead-up to their bath like saying things like, “It’s just five minutes to bath time!” Toddlers don’t usually like to stop one thing and start another without notice. You can use these same kinds of signals when it’s almost time to get out of the bath too.

Make sure you test the water before helping your child climb in. The back of your hand is more sensitive than your palm. And, never run hot water when your child is in the tub to avoid scalding. Once your child is in the tub, always stay within arms reach.

Combat Fears of Water and the Dreaded Drain

It’s not uncommon for children to be a little apprehensive about a bath. Sometimes it’s feeling nervous about water getting in their eyes, and other times it’s a fear that they might get sucked down the drain with the rest of the suds. Kids can also be a little unnerved by the sound of rushing water or can be worried about slipping.

Identify the reason for your child’s concern first, and then use small steps to help calm their fears.

For a child with a lot of uneasiness about water, it’s sometimes helpful to give them a chance to put their hands in the sink water to learn that water play can be fun. For kids who are extra frightened around water, you can even start water play in the kitchen sink or in a bucket/tray of water outside the bathroom. Then, over several days or weeks move it closer and closer. For example, start in the kitchen and then move it to the bathroom. Finally, move the bucket into the tub so your child can play with water when the tub is empty.

Introduce new bath toys outside the tub too, and show him or her how much fun it is to float them in water. Try only filling the tub with a couple of inches of water at first—just enough to splash a little—then gradually add more water as he or she gets more comfortable.

Get a nonskid mat for the tub to make it less slippery and cover the faucet with a piece of pool noodle to avoid head injuries. And don’t forget the non-slip mat outside the tub to make the floor less slippery. Even a towel on the floor will work in a pinch. If the rushing water sound is scary, try filling the tub when your child is in another room.

If your child is afraid of getting pulled down the drain, try having him or her help fill up the bathtub and bathe a toy or doll. Practice cleaning and grooming the toy and then leave it in the water and unplug the drain. Watch together and see that the toy doesn’t get sucked away. And don’t forget to point out how much bigger they are than the toy.

If none of these ideas work, you could try washing someplace other than the bathtub. Fill a different kind of receptacle with water instead. Try a flexible tub with handles or even a laundry bucket. Sometimes smaller options will be a novelty and will help your child look forward to bath time.

Add Some Fun (and Some Learning)

Bath activities can be fun, and you don’t need fancy toys for a good time. Even funnels, plastic bottles, or measuring cups can make bath time interesting. Rotate toys to keep things fresh, or try singing songs and telling stories. Helping your toddler make up their own games and stories will fuel their imagination.

Because toddlers are constantly learning, bath time is full of opportunities. Try naming the different parts of the body as you wash them. You can also add new vocabulary by repeating and incorporating new words. Repeat words for actions like: splash, pour, splash, spill, or sit. Learn the words for toys like: duck, fish, turtle, boat, ball, etc. Or, try naming the colors all around the bath. But also remember that bath time doesn’t mean school time, so keep it natural and low-key.

Try adding a few drops of food coloring to the bathtub to catch a wary toddler’s attention. Or, freeze small bath toys inside ice cubes and watch how much fun your child has as the ice melts to reveal what’s inside. Ice cubes made with colored water are also fun to chase around the tub.

Communicate to Calm Nerves

Give your child a heads-up when you are going to pour water over their head. Help them tilt their head back, or have them hold a washcloth over their eyes. If you are having trouble getting them to look up, try putting a picture of their favorite character on the ceiling (like Mickey Mouse or Thomas the Train). Then have them look at or find the character.

You can talk through the process so they aren’t surprised by saying things like: “Now let’s wash your hair.” And, don’t skip the praise. Let them know how brave they are, or how calm they are being.

You also could invest in a bath visor to keep little eyes dry. Even a foam visor from the dollar store would work. And, make sure your bath products are gentle and “no-tear” formulas. But, keep the focus on fun. You can sometimes skip the soaping and shampooing when it’s too much of a stressor.

If your child is especially unhappy about a certain part of bath time (like washing their hair), try singing the same song during this part every time. This ritual will help your child know what is coming and it will also help them realize it will be over soon. They’re done as soon as the song is over.

When all else fails, maybe a little togetherness can do the trick. Try getting in the tub with your child. Your example goes a long way, so showing your toddler how much fun you think the bath is might be just the inspiration he or she needs. Plus, who wouldn’t want to take a turn dumping water on mommy or daddy’s head?

Written by Annie Buck, OT

Annie Buck is an Occupational Therapist with Kids Who Count. She specializes in helping children with feeding and sensory delays. She lives in a houseful of boys. She and her husband have four sons, from 8-months-old to 7-years-old. Things are always loud at home with fun that usually involves someone wrestling someone else.





Holly BushnellFour Ideas to Make Bath Time Less Stressful and More Fun!
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Junior high students focus on children’s special needs

When seventh-grade students, Stefan Omelchuk and Christopher Bruder, were trying to decide what they would do for their required service project, they knew it had to involve two things: their love for the game of hockey and helping kids with disabilities.

Stefan and Christopher attend St. John the Baptist Middle School, also known as Juan Diego Catholic High School, which requires that all students complete a “Catholic Connection” service project to further their understanding of the Catholic belief in service to others.

It was their love of the game of hockey and their connections with the Utah Grizzlies that led to them organizing a fundraising event to benefit Kids Who Count, a nonprofit early intervention program in Nebo School District that serves the special health care needs of children in Utah County.

When explaining why they chose Kids Who Count as the benefactor of the event, Omelchuk said, “Me and my teammates are pretty lucky to get to play hockey. Some kids need help just to walk or talk. We wanted to help them.”

The fundraising event will take place on Feb. 27 at the Maverik Center, where the Utah Grizzlies will take on the Maine Mariners. Discounted tickets to benefit Kids Who Count can be purchased by contacting them at (801) 423-3000. Additionally, volunteers will be selling foam pucks to chuck on the ice for a chance to win $100. Proceeds from these sales will go directly to Kids Who Count.

We most often hear stories about high school, college or professional athletes when they are negative. It is refreshing to know that many of our youth at many of our schools are encouraged to give back to their communities instead of just playing a sport. Whether the requirement comes from the school or from a coach who knows that the value of an athlete goes beyond what they can do on the field or the court, we need to encourage more schools and coaches to follow this lead.

I would also like to remind everyone about Utah Valley University men’s basketball “Night for Autism” at 7 p.m. on Feb. 23. Tickets are free and special accommodations are available for individuals with disabilities. Go to, create an account and enter autism19 for your free tickets.

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Holly BushnellJunior high students focus on children’s special needs
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Why You Might Want to Ditch the Sippy Cup

Sippy cups have quickly become synonymous with toddlers, but you might want to consider skipping the sippy altogether, and here are a few reasons why:

Sippy Cups May Cause Developmental Delays

Hard, spouted cups may not be helpful for your child’s development. Leading child development specialists say that because spouted cups are held on the front of a child’s tongue, he or she may not develop what is called a “mature swallow pattern.”

Young children are learning how swallow like an adult and are pushing up their tongue to the roof of their mouth. Cups with a hard tip can hold the tip of their tongue down when they swallow instead of letting the tongue tip rise. If something holds their tongue down, they could develop a tongue-thrust, (or immature swallow) which could delay progress both in speech and motor development. Also, they can have difficulty with producing some speech sounds, like the “s” sound.

Speech-language pathologists consistently agree that prolonged use of a bottle or sippy cup can cause abnormalities in mouth development.

Your toddler is also figuring out his or her own eye-hand coordination. Many great skills combine when a child uses a glass and learns to drink on his or her own. For many parents whose child seems to be having a difficult time transitioning from a bottle, a sippy cup may seem like a terrific solution. But really, this intermediate step may just delay the natural learning process for your child.

It can take time and patience to help your child learn to drink from a real cup, but it’s worth the effort and will give your child valuable life skills they will need anyway—even if you were to inadvertently delay this process with a sippy cup.

Increase the Risk of Tooth Decay and Decrease Healthy Appetite

Another reason you may want to eliminate the sippy cup step altogether is because it can encourage unhealthy habits that can cause tooth decay, interfere with hunger, and create unhealthy “grazing” tendencies.

Kids love to drink apple juice and milk because of their sweetness. However, when a child sips continuously throughout the day, the lactose from milk and fructose from fruits stays on their teeth and gums, putting your child at a higher risk for cavities in their developing teeth.

And, when kids always have a sippy cup full of calorie-dense liquids they may have a decreased appetite for healthy food at mealtimes. Nobody wants to add more stress to toddler meals!

What to Do Instead

Many parents don’t realize that babies can and should be introduced to regular, open cups at about six months when they begin eating solid foods (with a lot of help from you!) If they have a lot of trouble you can try starting with a thicker liquid like a smoothie at first. By the time your child is 18 months old they should be able to use a regular cup fairly independently without too many spills.

A cup with a half lid (or a cup without the valve or nipple installed), and even a cup with a short straw is a better choice for busy toddlers. Or, try starting with a very small cup (like a shot glass or play cup) and a limited amount of liquid. Another trick might be to use a travel coffee or hot drink cup that has a small opening at the top. Sometimes these types of cups will help to decrease the flow of fluid so your child can drink with fewer spills.

If you have tried some of these ideas and nothing seems to be working, talk to a doctor or pediatric speech or occupational therapist about different, more individualized options.

Remember, the sippy cup is a relatively recent invention. Your grandparents, and maybe even your parents, survived the toddler years without them. And, although it can be a bit messy at first, it is important that most children learn how to drink from an open cup by 18 months of age.

Written by Annie Buck, OT

Annie Buck is an Occupational Therapist with Kids Who Count. She specializes in helping children with feeding and sensory delays. She lives in a houseful of boys. She and her husband have four sons, from 8-months-old to 7-years-old. Things are always loud at home with fun that usually involves someone wrestling someone else.





Holly BushnellWhy You Might Want to Ditch the Sippy Cup
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