Stay up to date with my newsletter

Month: December 2014

Sweeping things under the rug

I have recently gone through a house sitting stage and began to learn a lot about people by living in their homes. Being an OT who’s job it is to help people manage their routines, I found this compulsive need to put the houses in a clean and orderly state. In this process I learnt that EVERYONE at some point has just swept a bit of dirt under the rug. It was as if they got to the end or a particular spot and thought ‘that’s good enough’ or ‘no one will notice’. In some situations this was totally fine, the place didn’t need to be perfect as long as it was livable. Also being the new face coming in I was happy to take care of what would usually be left. In other houses it was more a case that there were not enough rugs to cover up the mess.

I began to speculate if this was a difference in personality, or just priorities. The therapist side of me wondered if there was a link between cleaning a messy house and dealing with messy emotions. Do people who leave a lot of mess around either:

a) Find it too much to deal with so just leave it, or

b) Focus more on the fun side of things and don’t bother with the messy stuff

At which point does it matter that we have just swept a few emotions under the rug? I mean a little mess was livable, gave some character and told a little story about the person. I remember a fridge magnet that my mum kept in prime position saying ‘ clean houses mean boring housewives’. In other situations when there was too much mess I wanted to avoid going there and couldn’t enjoy what the place had to offer. It was often pretty hard work to get the place cleaned up, but then these ones usually became my favourite. Some messy emotions or things that have happened in the past can at first seem overwhelming to look at. Yet cleaning and clearing these out allows for freedom and joy.

The first step is to acknowledge when a bit of cleaning is in order. Or is it that you need someone to ‘house sit’ to help you work a few things out?

Vision – seeing and understanding

There is much more to vision then simply being able to see something clearly. Vision is a fundamental factor in the learning process; it is required for reading and handwriting tasks. Current research indicates that 1 in 4 children have visual skill problems. Possible indicators that a child is having difficulty with visual skills are:

  • Avoiding writing and reading tasks as find it too hard
  • Not able to comprehend the information being read
  • Sore/tired, red, or watery eyes, headaches
  • Closing/covering one eye, reading close to the page
  • Turning whole head/body posture to follow an object
  • Take along time to complete work
  • Can only focus for short periods

There are 4 levels of vision that we need to see and use the information around us:

  • Visual Pathway Integrity – how well the eye is able to focus the lens to see something. It includes short and long sightedness, Astigmatism and color blindness. Optometrist and/or Developmental Optometrist assess these factors.
  • Visual Efficiency Skills – how well the motor muscles around the eyes work together. These muscles allow the eyes to fixate on a target and move smoothly together. This is the most common area not addressed which greatly influences the next two higher levels. A Developmental Optometrist assesses this area.
  • Visual Perceptual Skills – how the brain analyses and interprets the information. This significantly impacts how we understand what we see, and consequently how we remember what we see. There are a number visual pathways in the brain associated with this area. An Occupational Therapist assesses this area.
  • Visual Processing Skills – being able to recognize what information is important to look at and what are distractions that need filtering out. This determines how much visual input a person can cope with at once before they become overwhelmed, or if they need more visual input to even notice what is going on. An Occupational Therapist assess this area.

If you would like to discuss your child’s visual skills please do not hesitate to contact me. Online training on this topic is coming soon!

Building resilience rather than fear – the little moments count

This week in therapy, an eight-year-old boy jump onto a crash mat with such force and momentum that he bounced off and onto the ground on the other side. The business owner in me thought ‘on no, ’ll be in so much trouble if he has broken his arm!’. Then the boy got up, brushed off the dirt, stood up and said ‘I want to do that again!’ The clinician in me thought ‘this is brilliant! Look at all the proprioceptive feedback that he got from that impact, his central nervous system must be feeling so good right now’. In that moment I was overwhelmed by the amount of resilience that was shining through his smile. Here was a child, usually fearful and hesitant of using his body, ready to take on a new challenge.

I thought to myself; if I had let my fear that he would get hurt outweigh the benefits of doing this proprioceptive activity, I may have never seen this new confidence come through. Is it that, as adults, we pass on these fears to our children during these small moments, which may then contribute to their overall anxiety? How is it that we can find opportunities everyday for our children to explore their abilities and limits safely? I know that in my life it is the biggest crashes and the biggest falls that have shown me my greatest strengths. It is often the fear of ‘what if?’ that holds us back, rather than ‘why not?’.

I am grateful to this boy for trusting me to take a chance at something new, and allowing me to share that moment of pure joy that success brings. And do you know, he was right – that crash mat was good fun!

Surrounded by uncertainty

I’ve heard a number of stories this week about all the changes and feelings of uncertainty that were happening in peoples life with work, relationships and where to live. It was as if the ground was slipping from underneath their feet and life had become this whirlwind of events without consistency, routine or balance. What they craved most was to feel grounded and when someone asked ‘so what is happening with …’ they could answer without having an internal ice age.

When stuck in this overwhelming uncertainty, a common pattern of coping began to emerge. In order to gain a foothold, people were attempting to grab onto those around them. They wanted a lifeline; someone to reassure them that all is well and everything will be ok. Its not like they needed the whole maritime rescue team, or have all their ducks in a row, just one anchor would have sufficed. Though reaching out didn’t seem to be helping as it appeared to end in one of the three ways:

  • They would grab too tight to the person trying to help, leading them to feel suffocated and no longer wanting to be a lifeline.
  • When they reached out there was no one there who was emotionally available at the time.
  • They felt more angry, frustrated or upset with themselves for needing a lifeline in the first place.

So what was it that was going to help these children, parents, friends and family members stay afloat? They needed a new strategy. Looking externally was clearly not bringing the satisfying solution that they were hoping for. So we began to explore what was certain in their lives, things about themselves that no matter what was happening around them, they could reliably say was true. These were their internal strengths that anchored their actions and brought certainty to who they were. We also looked for other times in their life when they felt uncertain and what got them through. These became their action plans so they could once again succeed.

In comparison, this new response to an overwhelmingly uncertain situation

  • Lasted the distance.
  • Was available when needed.
  • Resulted in a feeling of personal strength and resolve.

Definitely a much more satisfying strategy!