Game Play Has No Negative Affect On Children?

A UK longitudinal study carried out on over 11, 000 children by the Medical Research Council at the University of Glasgow concluded that:

  • Watching TV for 3 hours or more daily at 5 years predicted increasing conduct problems between the ages of 5 years and 7 years.
  • No effects of TV at 5 years were found on hyperactivity/inattention, emotional symptoms, peer relationship problems or prosocial behaviour.
  • Playing electronic games at 5 years was not associated with increased risk of problems.

The results are interesting but I do feel rather than take them at face value, it is important to think about the study itself. The original research paper can be found on the British Medical Journal website.

Firstly, the most obvious point is perhaps that it is carried out by survey and therefore relies on the parent’s perspective of their child, and also assumes they have tracked screen time correctly and recorded it accurately. Although the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) given to the parents to complete is described as “a widely-used survey instrument with high validity and reliability,” I have carried out the questionnaire personally and feel the questions themselves are rather subjective and the tick box answers very restrictive. In addition, each parent’s perspective on what the terms themselves mean, how the questions and answers are interpreted and parent’s perception of the children themselves will inevitably vary greatly. For example, one question states is the child “obedient”. Define obedience. Is the child obedient in which situations? What factors does it depend on and is this relevant? And how to then answer accurately with the limited options of not true, somewhat true or certainly true? Even the mood of the parent at the time of completing the SDQ or events taken place just prior could change the answers. Without a more holistic picture of the child, the questionnaires can not be assumed to be at all accurate, in my opinion.

Secondly, the study sets out to look at direct links between amount of screen time and mental health, ignoring the potential indirect affects. “Links between screen time and mental health may be indirect, rather than direct, for example, via increased sedentary behaviour, sleeping difficulties and language development.” If mental health is indirectly affected this should be equally noted in the conclusion in order to give a clear and unbiased presentation of the results. The other thing noted in the research itself and I feel relevant personally, is that the study was only carried out to show the effects on children up to aged 7. These are not long term results, there is no point of reference later in childhood or even into adult life. I think it is important to consider possible delayed effects that might not show up until later in life.

Also, the types of games played and nature of programmes watched were not taken into account and this is perhaps far more relevant than the amount of screen time. “There was also no information on weekend use, or the content or context of early screen time. Other research has indicated the importance of content for aggression and attentional problems in young children. Screen time in the context of parental restrictions or discussion of content may moderate negative effects.” The study itself suggests further study in this area is needed. “The study highlights the need for more detailed data to explore risks of various forms of screen time, including exposure to screen violence.”

Gaming, negative affects, mental health, behaviour, SEND, parenting childhood, research, living life our way
Stock photo (image not my own)

In addition, studies should further examine the associated child and family characteristics which appear to account for most of the simple associations between screen exposure and psychosocial adjustment. What is appropriate for some is not appropriate for others, particularly in content.

However, the biggest point that the study itself mentions but that is not highlighted in reports of the findings, is the many factors that can affect how a child is effected by screen exposure. “For problem scores (conduct, hyperactivity/ inattention, emotional and peer relationship), detailed modelling (not shown) indicated that the set of maternal and family characteristics produced the greatest reduction in the effect of screen exposure; followed by adjustment for child characteristics. For prosocial scores, family functioning measures produced the greatest reduction in the effect of screen exposure.” This might seem obvious to many but I feel there can be a danger of oversimplifying the summary of results and not taking into account the other factors and, most importantly, the child themselves as an individual.

So do I think that there is a case for limiting screens? Yes and no. It depends entirely on the context. Limitations might be in time, or could be in content only. It might not be an imposed limitation necessarily, it could be mutually and respectfully agreed upon by the entire family. Sometimes the child might set their own limitations because they have decided for themselves that they are not comfortable with the content, or would simply rather do other things with their time. It might not be an arbitrary rule but rather stem from a very genuine and obvious need for it. The adults in the house may also limit their own screen time to meet the needs of the family. What works for one family may well be very different to another.

The fact is that everyone has different needs and I feel we need to be accepting and understanding of this in all aspects of life, screens are no different. Individuals are exactly that, individual, so the assumption that there is a right or wrong answer as to whether or not screens have any negative effects is, I feel, misguided. Families need to support their children in meeting their own needs rather than be guided by research one way or another. A million people can say they personally did or did not experience negative effects but if you feel differently and think it is causing any type of harm to yourself or someone you are responsible for, you are probably right.

In summary, according to the research paper “findings do not demonstrate that interventions to reduce screen exposure will improve psychosocial adjustment. Indeed, they suggest that interventions in respect of family and child characteristics, rather than a narrow focus on screen exposure, are more likely to improve outcomes.” It is not about reducing screen exposure or otherwise, it is about respecting individuals and how their needs vary.

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm (St Albans, Hertfordshire)

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground at Willows Farm in St Albans, Hertfordshire is a million pound plus development based on the famous Beatrix Potter characters and CBeebies animated series. It opened its doors in April 2016, the year that marks the 150th anniversary of author Beatrix Potter, who has captured our hearts and imaginations for over 100 years with her well-loved children’s tales. It is also the only one of its kind in the world, how exciting!

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Beatrix Potter
There are different sections within Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground.

There are different sections within the Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, such as Mr McGregor’s Garden, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s kitchen and laundry area, Mr Bouncer’s Great Invention, Jeremy Fisher’s Musical Pond, Lily Bobtail’s Nature area, Benjamin Bunny’s Tree Top Adventures and of course Peter Rabbit’s Secret Treehouse too!

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Beatrix PotterPeter Rabbit’s secret treehouse is set around a 100 year old ash tree.

I particularly love Jeremy Fisher’s Musical Pond with its lovely little range of interesting instruments. These are good for various age children I imagine, and they are a great sensory activity.

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Jeremy Fisher musical pond, musical instruments, SEN, sensory activity, Beatrix Potter
Jeremy Fisher Musical pond

We haven’t ventured into Mrs Tiggy- Winkle’s area yet because Squiggle is usually too busy playing in the other areas but I have had a quick peek and it looks lovely, particularly for younger children. I wonder if the confined space of the indoor bit might get abit much for some SEND children during busier times but it did look like there were some great sensory activities in there too. We also haven’t explored Mr McGregor’s garden yet. This area includes opportunities for ‘heavy’ lifting of giant radish, which is another great sensory activity. It all looks like alot of fun!

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Mr Bouncer Great Invention, interactive technology, Beatrix Potter
Mr Bouncer’s Great Invention

Mr Bouncer’s Great Invention is an interactive latest technology feature where children can play games about colours or calculations, and dance to music. It reminded me somewhat of a fancier version of the dance-off style arcade games or dance mats you can buy for use with consoles at home! It is a nice activity but it can be difficult during busier times if multiple children try to play on it at once. Also, the sound effects coming from here combined with the various other sound effects nearby is potentially overstimulating and I think could easily cause sensory overload for some (SEND) children. The activity itself is certainly a great game though if you have the chance to properly play it! 

One thing I feel could be improved is that it would be far better if the various interactive ‘noisy’ features were more spread out or if there were less of them. Ideally it would be useful if there was more control over them too! Obviously during busier periods this perhaps wouldn’t make much difference, as most likely everything would be in use for the majority of the time regardless, but during quieter times it would be really beneficial if the interactive features could be interacted with rather than automatically activated. For example, Benjamin bunny seems to ‘talk’ at you everytime you get close, as do various other things. I’m sure many SEND children would be much more comfortable if they could choose for this to happen and feel able to move about freely without inadvertently setting off noises around them. However, this does not stop Squiggle enjoying this fantastic playground! (Although I suspect it may do for some).

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Lily Bobtail's Nature Area, bug hunting, nature, Beatrix Potter
Lily Bobtail’s Nature Area – Bug Hunting

Another part I especially love is Lily Bobtail’s Nature Area. I am not sure why this section, or the rest of the playground, isn’t actually made from more natural materials, rather than just made to ‘look’ that way. I assume this is due to durability and maintenence I would guess but I don’t know. Either way it does have a lovely natural vibe to it that I really like. Counting the rings on the old tree stump to discover the age of the tree is interesting!

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Lily Bobtail's Nature Area, old tree stump, nature, Beatrix Potter
Lily Bobtail’s Nature Area – old tree stump

We haven’t caught any of the shows yet, although they are on at regular times daily, but we did meet both Peter Rabbit and Lily Bobtail (during two separate visits) which was a massive highlight for Squiggle; she loves character meet and greets! 

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, character meet and greet, Beatrix Potter
Meeting Peter Rabbit
Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Lily Bobtail, character meet and greet, Beatrix Potter
Lily Bobtail hugs

In addition to the actual adventure playground itself, the Peter Rabbit theme continues in other parts of the farm too; including indoor imaginative play at Cotton-Tail Village and the outdoor assault course Peter Rabbit Woodland Trail.

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out
Peter Rabbit Woodland Trail

All in all, Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground certainly adds a brilliant new dimension to the overall Willows Farm experience! Entry into Peter Rabbit Adventure playground is included in the general ticket price for Willows Activity Farm, and the cost of this varies throughout the year. See website for further details, and book online to save! 

30 Days Wild- Day 3: Grounding

For day 3 of our 30 Days Wild challenge we did something very simple: going barefoot on the grass. This is a lovely sensory experience and is calming to connect to the earth in this way.

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Grounding

PDA Awareness Day

Today is PDA awareness day so I made this brief info video. Apologies if anyone feels that the video moves along abit too fast and is therefore hard to take it in. If so, this is actually a good demonstration of how the world can feel for someone with sensory processing difficulties, which is often one of the many challenges faced by those with PDA (and other types of autism). Pressing the pause button will help with reading and digesting the information if needed, not as simple in real life!

PDA Conference 2015 ‘Together We’re Stronger’

Hubby attended the PDA Society Parent and Carer Conference 2015 in Northampton today. (PDA stands for Pathological Demand Avoidance, which is a subtype of autism). He came back feeling so inspired and enthusiastic that he even agreed to write a blog post about the day (Hubby does NOT blog and does not usually share feelings so openly; today has clearly had a profound effect on him! 😉 )…

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Hubby busily writing his blog post 🙂

My expectations were blown aside today, my experience was so much more than simply developing my appreciation and understanding of PDA. From the privilege of hearing so many thought provoking messages and hope for the future from Phil Christie, a student and colleague of Elizabeth Newson (I wish he was our Psychologist- he gets my daughter despite having never met any of our family); to the reassurance that- despite all our daily struggles and lack of understanding from so many- WE ARE NOT ALONE; to Neville Starnes and Jane Sherwin’s fantastic presentations. What can I say? Both of them emotionally touched me, their journey’s will stay with me and I know that I wasn’t alone in finding inspiration in their words.

I found the entire day extremely reassuring that there are clinicians as well as parents and carers who truly understand, and can share experiences and guidance. Throughout the day I found myself writing copious amounts of notes… that was until Jane Sherwin’s and Neville Starne’s presentations, when I didn’t lift my pen once. Why was this? It certainly wasn’t because I wouldn’t have wanted to but because both of their stories not only captured my undivided attention but they have given me inspiration that I haven’t felt for years. I wish I had the chance to personally thank them both for sharing their personal roller coaster with all of us. Thank you!

If I had to pick three highlights of the conference it would be a tough choice but I will go with these…

· Jane Sherwin and Neville Starnes talking about their children (although in both cases I had to keep reminding myself that they weren’t actually talking about my daughter!!!)

· Neville Starnes reciting a light hearted blog post on clinical support

· Phil Christie painting a picture of developing understanding in the medical world

Key things from each of the speakers that I will keep with me…

Phil Christie

· (PDA is) “like ASD but…”

· Difficult behaviours and need for control is underpinned by significant social exposure anxiety.

Dr Jo Clarke

· Solve the problem not modify the behaviour.

· Understanding comes before helping.

· Problem solving is collaborative and proactive.

· Kids do well if they can… doing well is preferable.

Jane Sherwin

· Family environment- reduced demands (eg safety only), surround only with those who understand.

· You’re only human and its ok if you don’t cope with every situation perfectly.  

· Take the lead from your child.

Neville Starnes

· Masking is different to coping.

· You as the parent are your child’s expert.

· You can take a PDA child to water but you can’t make him wash!!!!

I met so many wonderful people today and left feeling better equipped to support my family on our onward journey and with a new found appreciation for both the challenges my daughter faces every day but the amazing job my wife does as her full time carer. We are all human, but I honestly think that I found someone pretty superhuman. (Thank you Jane for reminding me!)

The theme of the day was what makes us stronger. During the day we had to write on strips of paper what makes us stronger to make a giant paper chain. I wrote on two, the first “my daughter” and the second “my wife”. But if I could write one more link I would add “days like today”.

Unfortunately I had to leave before the end but would like to thank all the presenters, the lovely people I met and the PDA society for not just a well organised conference, but a life enhancing experience. HUGE thanks to everyone involved.

Dog Shows, Fetes and Fun Days

We have been to various fetes, fun days and dog shows this year. We really enjoy going to these events, not only as a fun family day out, but because they are educational and excellent social opportunities too.

For example, dog shows might seem like an odd place to hang out if (like us) you are not a dog owner but we find they are a brilliant way for Squiggle to initiate social interactions in a relaxed, spontaneous situation. She loves dogs but she knows not to stroke them without first checking with the owner, so she has been learning to judge the situation to decide if it seems a sensible time, then asks the owner’s permission before petting the dog. She sometimes then chats to the owner further, asking questions such as the name of the dog, breed, age etc… Great for building her confidence!

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Oaklands Doggy Day
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Dog event in Hemel Hempstead- June
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Donkey sanctuary fun day (dogs, horse grooming and inflatables)
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Dog show at a local school (play area, dog competitions, dog agility, games)
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Highfield Charity Dog Show- Sept
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Highfield fete (dog agility, assault course, inflatables)

Oaklands Summer Fete in July had a huge range of activities and events going on. This one was a big hit!

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Oaklands Summer Fete (morris dancing, funfair, inflatables, coordination/ fine motor skill games, bricklaying demonstration, birds of prey, chainsaw sculpture demonstration and loads more...)
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At Oaklands Summer Fete we also watched a horseball game, which was very unusual!

St Albans Country Show relocated at the last minute from Aldenham to Highfield Park. This was another lovely event with plenty to do.

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St Albans Country Show (animals)
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St Albans County Show (dog competitions)
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St Albans County Show (circus skills- Squiggle was SO excited!!!)
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St Albans Country Show (Squiggle LOVED this inflatable slide because there was a choice of which slide to go down!)

These events also inspire her, capture her imagination, bring out her creativeness and motivate her to write. Her are some of the activities she has chosen to do at home after our days out…

Squiggle designed her own dog activity worksheets.

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The first picture says 'Which dog do you think has the waggiest tail? Colours Dog or Circus Dog.' The second picture is a colouring in that says 'eyes red, nose yellow, ears pink, smile biro.'

She made herself an animal colouring in book.

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Title page 'Colour in the animals' Page 1 'golden retreiver...Cute' Page 2 'dalmation.... Milu Cute Littlesea' Page 3 'poodle...Oodle the Poodle' Page 4 'harbour seals' Page 5 'cat...Littlesea' Page 6 'tigre tiger...Rory' Page 7 'walrus (on ice)' Page 8 'bunny'

She acted out the dog agility.

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Dog agility

Squiggle’s book of dog breeds.

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Dog Breed Book. Page 1 'Dalmations' Page 2 'Poodles' Page 3 'Bull dogs. Playing games- lick bone, chase, fetch' Page 4 'Golden Retrievers' Page 5 'Huskies' Page 6 'Spaniels' (Below most dogs she has written 'with a tickly tummy' plus their name and/ or a description by them too).

Paddling Pools and Splash Parks

During the summer months Squiggle spends alot of time playing in water. This fulfills her sensory needs and is also part of her therapy in other ways too. We have visited various splash parks and paddling pools…

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The Importance of Playgrounds: Vestibular/ Proprioceptive Activities

Sometimes I think the importance of playgrounds are undervalued. I have often included in my posts photos and information about our trips to playgrounds and it strikes me that some parents may wonder why this is even noteworthy. Yet everything around us can be considered of educational value in some way. Other than the obvious health benefits of this physical exercise, a trip to a playground also has another clear purpose as well as ‘just’ being fun. Playgrounds are highly beneficial for a child with sensory processing disorder (or any child without!) because they provide plenty of opportunities to organise the nervous system, especially through vestibular and proprioceptive input, which helps to integrate and rebalance the senses. In short, it has a calming effect and helps the child to be more focused and ready to learn. A playground is almost like an informal sensory integration therapy session, with the added benefit of being readily available and often entirely free!

 

Personally we love going out alone to quiet playgrounds during school hours for some unrestricted and unhurried therapeutic play. When we meet up with friends at playgrounds it tends to be a very different experience compared to going alone, both beneficial for Squiggle but in different ways. Whilst one provides a lovely social opportunity, she gets less out of those trips in terms of sensory ‘therapy’ because she tends to play differently at playgrounds when with others, rather than spend as much time on the range of equipment. So she particularly enjoys the opportunity to focus on the environment itself sometimes too.

 

greenwood park zip wire 7 oct 14
Zip wire provides vestibular input.
greenwood park tyre swing 7 oct 14
The tyre swing provides a circular movement as well as backwards and forwards motion.
greenwood park swing 7 oct 14
Swinging can be very calming.
greenwood park seesaw 7 oct 14
Squiggle enjoyed walking along the see-saw so she could feel the movement through her whole body.
greenwood park roundabout 7 oct 14
More vestibular input on the roundabout.
greenwood park sensory mud 7 oct 14
Mud is also a fantastic sensory activity.
greenwood park running 7 oct 14
Space to run- up and down hills and over bridges as well as on flat land.
greenwood park climbing frame 7 oct 14
Climbing provides proprioceptive input.
greenwood park tactile maze 7 oct 14
These are lovely tactile activities. Squiggle had far more patience doing these mazes with her finger than she has for paper and pencil ones.
greenwood park different ways of using equipment 7 oct 14
Using the equipment in different ways (climbing over the tunnel and going down the steps like a crab).
greenwood park slide 7 oct 14
Slides are also great sensory input. She enjoyed using them in different ways too.
greenwood park chilling 7 oct 14
Of course taking time to relax is important too!

Development is not a race- the joy of seeing fine motor skill progress at her own pace

Here is squiggle’s writing development over the past few months, since she first decided to pick up a pen in order to try to write:

drawing 05.02
This was her mark making in February 2013
drawing 11.05.13
This was her ‘writing’ in May 2013
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June 2013- starting to form letters, some correctly. This says ‘book, bus, london’
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‘happy fathers day’ (15th June 2013)
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‘grandad’ (written backwards!) June 2013

And here is her drawing development (see the creative development page for 2011-2012 for comparison)…

milenium wheel drawing 11.03.13
London eye drawing March 2013
map of st albans 08.04.13
This is a map of St Albans she drew in April 2013
drawing 09.05.13
This is her drawing of a person 9th May 2013
drawing of big ben 11.05.13
Big Ben drawn and cut out independently May 2013
drawing 06.06.13
London eye and a london bus June 2013
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London bus with a funny face drawn in late June 2013
drawing 08.06.13
People in a garden looking at flowers June 2013
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Crocodile June 2013
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Observation drawing from a book 25th June 2013
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Funfair wheel 9th July 2013 (the circles in the middle are the cogs she noticed while riding on it)
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A very busy paddling pool! July 2013
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She copied the picture her dad had drawn for her and then added her own ideas to. July 2013
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Pigs on a swing 10th July 2013

Sensory Activities

Baking provides lots of sensory input.
Playgrounds offer plenty of vestibular input.
Light ups and flashing toys offer visual input.
This sensory room has lots of toys and resources for sensory input.
Tactile input- porridge oats

Tactile input with rice, porridge oats and pasta messy play.
Sand play is a great sensory activity.
Wet and dry sand play offers different tactile sensory input.
Science museum water play
Sensory play with popcorn (olfactory and tactile input)
There are lots of sensory products that offer sensory stimulation, such as this squidgy tactile mice and cheese.
Flashing light squidgy stars- great sensory toy.
Snow provides excellent sensory input!
Jelly stones tactile activity.
Soil is also a lovely natural sensory resource.
Bubble wrap provides auditory and tactile stimulation.
Water play in the garden.
Vestibular input from trampolines.