Many parents ask, “What is the difference between Autism (ASD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)? Are they the same thing?”  They are two distinct diagnoses.  Some children just have SPD or ASD, while other children demonstrate both.

What is SPD?  Sensory Processing Disorder, originally called Sensory Integration Dysfunction, refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses (, 2017). SPD is exhibited when sensory signals are not organized into appropriate responses. You process sensation all day long.

Whether you are biting into a crunchy food, riding a scooter, or simply lying on a firm sofa, you are processing sensation in some way.   SPD can affect one or more of the senses and varies from person to person.  Someone with SPD may be over-responsive to environmental stimuli.  For example, the touch of firm paper, or a soft shirt may set off a tantrum or meltdown.  Others may be under-responsive to environmental stimuli.  They may not be able to determine excessively hot or cold temperatures.  Children with this disorder may be uncoordinated, moody, and bump into things.  They may be unable to know where their body is in space, have unusual eating habits, and have difficulty engaging in play.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder? The National Institute of Mental Health defines ASD as the name for a group of developmental disorders, which include a wide “spectrum” of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability ( 2016).  ASD can be characterized by difficulty interacting with peers, language impairment, and repetitive behaviors.  Some children with autism may have difficulty expressing emotions. Autism is a developmental disorder that has symptoms related to delayed social skills, language, and obsessive interests, while SPD is a sensory disorder with symptoms caused by reactions to sensory stimuli.

It is important to know that a child with SPD can easily be misdiagnosed for a child with ASD, due to similar sensory symptoms. However, the SPD Foundation explains that most children with SPD do not have autism.IMG_3173If you have any questions regarding SPD or ASD, please contact us to speak to an occupational therapist trained in sensory integration.  The occupational therapist will be able address  any concerns you may have.

Janna Hacker and Associates   901-328-2110






When your little one begins preschool, a proper pencil grip and scissor cutting skills seem to take center stage. But if a child starts to lag behind, parents naturally wonder about getting extra help to catch up.

What is occupational therapy (OT)?
Commonly referred to as OT, occupational therapy focuses on helping children and adults acquire (or re-gain) the skills needed to perform the activities or “occupations” of daily life. It’s a broad field that includes:

– Fine motor skills (finger and hand movements, handwriting, typing);
– Visual motor skills (coordinating eye/hand movements, copying from the board, throwing/catching);

– Sensory integration skills (over/under active, picky eater, seeks/avoids sensory input); and
– Self-help skills (oral-motor, eating, getting dressed, washing).

Below is a list of 8 questions you should ask yourself to see if your child might need a professional occupational therapy evaluation:

  • Is your child reactive to sounds or touch (clothing) by seeking out or avoiding too much input?
  • Is your child a picky eater?
  • Does your child have difficulty manipulating puzzles or toys with small pieces?
  • Does your child have difficulty using a fork or spoon to feed independently?
  • Can your older child dress/undress herself/himself appropriately? Can he/she manipulate buttons and zippers and tie his/her shoes?
  • Does your child have difficulty grasping a pencil or difficulty with coloring/handwriting?
  • How does your child’s artwork and handwriting compare to his/her peers?
  • Can your child ride a bike independently by the age of 6?

A child’s earliest years are filled with new stimulations and experiences that drive his or her growth in many areas. If you’re concerned about your child and think he or she may need the help of an occupational therapist, please contact Janna Hacker & Associates for a consult at 901-328-2110.

IMG_0241 Summer has faded and a new school year is in bloom. Whether your child is in preschool or older, now is a great time to take a fresh look and see if there might be developmental delays you need to address.

Children all develop at different rates, so sometimes it’s natural for parents to overlook or ignore speech issues. But communication disorders are prevalent in the U.S., and the earlier you diagnose and treat a speech-language disorder, the less impact it may have on your child’s academic and social well-being.

We’ve identified 12 red flags, so you know when to seek an evaluation of your child’s language and speech development:

  • Does your child have 50 words by the age of two?
  • Is your child pairing two to three words together at the age of two?
  • Can you understand 80% of what your child says by the age of three?
  • Does your child follow directions easily and understand what you are saying to him/her?
  • Does your child struggle to make sounds to form words?
  • Can your child read consonant-vowel combinations by first grade?
  • Does your older child have difficulty with reading comprehension or writing assignments?
  • Does your child have difficulty with short term or long term memory tasks?
  • Does your child demonstrate difficulty maintaining attention to a task?
  • Does your child demonstrate play skills consistent with his/her peers?
  • Does your child play well with his/her peers?
  • Ask your child’s teacher how he/she compares to peers in the classroom. Is he/she in the upper or lower end of his/her peers?


If you think your child may need the help of a speech therapist, please contact Janna Hacker & Associates for a consult at 901-328-2110. Our team of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) help children of all ages who have speech and language disorders.


Whether your child is starting a new school or is a seasoned school veteran, jitters usually go along with the first day. So what can parents do to help minimize anxiety?  Below are five ways to help ensure your child has a great first day.


1. Set up a playdate with a classmate
Before school starts, have your child spend time with friends attending the same school and, preferably, the same class. While there’s bound to be some anxiety on the first day, kids will appreciate seeing a familiar face and having a buddy who cares.

2. Read a book about going to school

There are a host of great books about the first day of school, whether it’s starting kindergarten or 1st grade or going back in general. Visit your local library and dive in. Some of our tried and true favorites include The Night Before Kindergarten and The Berenstain Bears Go to School. 

3. Talk openly with your child
Be honest about your own experiences, and discuss a time when you felt excited or nervous going to school or trying something new. Talk freely and regularly, and encourage your child to talk about how he or she is feeling, too.  Normalize feelings of nervousness by telling your child it’s okay to have first day jitters.  

4. See the classroom beforehand
If possible, visit school ahead of time with your child and find his or her homeroom. Work with your child to write up an appropriate school-day routine and talk about how the day will go. You could even give it a dry run before school starts packed lunch and all!

5. Meet your teacher beforehand

Introducing your child to his or her teacher ahead of time is another great way to minimize those first day jitters and eliminate the unknown. Even showing a yearbook picture can put your child at ease and know who to expect.

It’s common for children to feel hesitant about going somewhere new and meeting new people, and so starting school can be uneasy time. If you feel like your child needs additional help preparing for school success (speech, language, motor, behavior, social skills) please contact Janna Hacker & Associates for a consult at 901-328-2110 or read more at 


  1. Make a 4th of July Wand

Work on discussing parts and whole, similarities and differences, and other places we may see wands/stars/red, white, blue/etc. These festive and fun wands are perfect for those kiddos who are still too small to use sparklers (P.S. – kids should ALWAYS be supervised around fireworks, no matter how big or small!).

You’ll need:

  • 3 inch foam star
  • Red and blue craft paint
  • Red, white, and blue ribbon
  • Wooden dowel
  • Scissors
  • Paint brush

What to do:

  • Paint the foam star red. Paint the wooden dowel blue and set aside to dry.
  • Stick the dowel into the bottom of the star till secure.
  • Tie on red, white, and blue ribbon.

Have fun waving your wand all night long!

  1. Patriotic Party Games

If the weather is nice, have some outdoor fun! Work on turn taking, problem solving, and following directions by having a relay race, holding a water balloon fight.

  1. Try one of these Patriotic treats exps15284_CT10183C42B

Prepare a fruit tray using red, white and blue fruit! You could use strips of watermelon or cut-up strawberries for the red stripes; sliced bananas for the white stripes; and lots of blueberries for the stars! Make sure to practice your good speech sounds while talking about how to assemble your flag fruit tray.


Sugar Cookie Bars – fun for kiddos to help you make! Work on comparing/contrasting amounts, textures, and flavors while you bake!

  • 1 c. unsalted butter; softened
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • White vanilla or cream cheese frosting
  • Red, white, and blue sprinkles

Mix the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl and set aside. Next, in a separate large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then, add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix again. Now slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Spread batter into a greased 10×15 or 13×18 inch pan Bake at 375 for 12-15min. They are done when the top is just starting to turn a light golden color and you can stick a toothpick in and it comes out clean. Do not over bake or they will end up dry. Let them cool, then add your frosting and sprinkles!

Summer Play Ideas for Language and Motor Development

  1. Baking cookies– This is a great task for working on both language and motor skills. Your child can practice language skills by following a recipe or one to two step directions that you give them. Motor skills will be targeted by kneading the dough, using cookie cutters, stirring, mixing, and picking up small pieces like sprinkles or chocolate morsels.
  2. Prop Boxes– Most kids love dressing up in adult clothes. Prop boxes are great tools for helping kids expand their pretending. Each box can have a theme such as picnic, grocery store, doctor’s office, or the circus. The boxes hold clothing and props that can be used for the specific scene. The child will use his/her imagination to make up stories or pretend play with the items in each box. Children can also use shirts and pants with buttons and/or zippers to work on fine motor skills and taking clothes odownloadn/off. Shoes can be added in order to work on putting them on/taking them off and tying shoe laces.
  3. PlayDough– Sensory play is beneficial for a child in the preschool years. Children learn by doing and molding with play-dough is something they cannot do wrong. It helps build confidence and self-esteem. They will use their imagination by molding different objects, animals, etc. Kneading, smashing, cutting, rolling
    into balls, and molding are all great ways to build fine motor skills too!
  4. Playing Outside– Preschoolers can learn a lot from being out in nature. They will learn about the weather, animals, flowers, trees, vehicles, seasonal changes, etc. Nature and the outdoors offer a wide variety of vocabulary. You can start from the basics such as “bug, tree, car, sun” and build on more specific vocabulary words such as “ant, bee, oak tree, bright sunshine, truck, van.” Nature also offers a variety of textures and terrains for kids to explore, in order to help with fine motor and gross motor skills. Walking in grass, on a gravel road, or in sand will be more challenging than walking on the sidewalk or in the street. Playing in the sand box or grass will offer a lot of sensory input with different textures.
  5. Sandbox– Playing in the sandbox is a great way to offer sensory input and a variety of textures to your preschooler. Have the child dig in the sand with his/her downloadhands in order to feel the grainy texture. Hide toys/objects in the sand for your child to find by digging in the sand. Work on motor skills by scooping with a shovel, driving toy cars or trucks on the sand, or modeling animals or objects in the sand.
  6. Playing with Paint– Painting is a great way to stimulate your child’s imagination. Some children like to explore different colors they can make by mixing paints together and others like to draw objects such as animals or flowers. Talking about what your child is drawing or creating will facilitate your child’s language and vocabulary skills. Fine motor skills will be targeted by having your child finger paint of holding a paint brush and making different strokes on the paper. Finger painting will also provide sensory stimulation for your child. Painting is also another activity that your child will feel successful at, as they can create their own designs to be proud of.
  7. Cardboard Boxes– Cardboard boxes can provide hours of entertainment! A large cardboard box can turn into a house, school building, doctor’s office, or post office. Your child’s imagination can run wild as he/she creates stories within their very own space. Practice drawing and writing on the cardboard box. Your child can practice the alphabet, writing numbers, and writing his/her name on the box.
  8. Playing with Blocks– Preschool children have always loved building with blocks. From building structures to stacking blocks to make a tall tower, this is another fun activity for stimulating your child’s imagination and working on fine motor skills.
  9. Telephone– Gather a bunch of your old telephones for your child to play with. Pretending to talk on the telephone is a great way to get kids talking, role playing, and using their imagination all at the same time. Role-play with your child by talking on the phone to each other or have your child use his/her imagination and “talk” on the phone to a person of their choice. This activity is great for building conversation skills and appropriate ways to communicate with others. Children can also “jot down” notes while communicating on the phone. This adds voimagescabulary, communication, dramatic play, pre-writing skills, number recognition, and fine motor skills all at once.
  10. I Spy– Take a large clear container and fill it with small objects from around the home. Show the items in the container to your child and say “I spy something (object) and you use it to (description).” When your child guesses the correct object, let him/her get the object out of the container. To make the activity harder, have your child give you 2-3 descriptions of an object while you try to guess. Include concepts such as colors, categories (animals, food, transportation) and number sense (I spy something with 8 legs).

How can I tell if my child has a learning disability?

Children learn at different rates and with different styles during the kindergarten years; however, if your child has significant trouble learning numbers and letters or with speech, he may have a learning disability. Knowing the signs of learning disabilities and getting the necessary early intervention is key to the child’s success. imgresThe earlier the learning disability is detected, the better chance the child will have of succeeding in school and in life. Because the first years in school are crucial to a child, it is important to recognize signs of a learning disability early on. Difficulty with reading and language is the most common learning disability. Studies have shown that students who are at risk for reading difficulties were able to achieve average or above average reading ability when they received help early on. Parents can give their children the necessary skills for coping with and compensating for a learning disability, with early detection and intervention. Children with learning diimgressabilities process information differently, but are generally of average or above-average intelligence. A learning disability can affect a child’s ability to read, write, speak, do math, and build social relationships. Early warning signs commonly associated with learning disabilities between the preschool years and fourth grade are listed below. Many times, young children will exhibit one or two of these behaviors, but consistent problems with a group of behaviors are a good indication that your child may have a learning disability.

Early Warning Signs for Preschoolers:

  • Late talkers, compared to other children
  • Pronunciation problems
  • Slow vocabulary growth, often with word-finding difficulties
  • Difficulty identifying and producing rhyming words
  • Difficulty learning numbers, the alphabet, and days of the week
  • Extremely restless and easily distracted
  • Trouble interacting with peers
  • Poor ability to follow directions or routines
  • Poor fine motor skills

What should I do?

If you suspect that your child has a learning disability, a complete psychological evaluation will need to be completed in order to make a firm diagnosis. Speech-language-pathologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists will be part of the team to give information to the psychologists on how the child performs in the areas of speech, language, motor, and sensory skills. Evaluations for each area of concern will be helpful in order to see what level your child is functioning at for each specific area. Many children with learning disabilities will require speech therapy in order to focus on goals to target improvement of speech and language skills, such as reading, understanding/using language, phonemic awareness tasks, following directions, etc. Children will not only make improvement toward each goal, but learn specific compensatory strategies in order to help them overcome these challenging areas. Children with learning disabilities may also require occupational therapy in order to focus on fine motor skills, such as cutting, gluing, grasping a pencil correctly, buttoning, zipping, and tying. A collaboration of therapies, along with tutoring may be required. Children with learning disabilities can be successful in school and life with early intervention and team collaboration approach!