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Let’s Get Real About Screen Time

Screen Time and Childhood Development

Screens and technology use are becoming more and more common for children. According to the CDC, children ages 8-10 spend an average of 6 hours per day in front of a screen. This increased time spent starring into a screen can have significant effects on a child’s health and development. Young children learn about the world by exploring their environment and watching and modeling others’ behaviors. They learn to foster their imagination and creativity by interacting with toys and others. Increased screen use can have significant effects on this aspect of their development. A new study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center published in JAMA Pediatrics showed concerning evidence that brain structure may be altered in kids with more screen use. Researchers looked at brain MRIs in 47 preschoolers and found that screen time over the American Academy of Pediatric’s recommendations was associated with differences in brain structure in areas related to language and literacy development. Below is a chart with suggested screen time use by age by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Screen Time

Screen Time and Behavior

While screens can be beneficial teaching tools, great for reward and even better for making those long car rides more bearable, their growing presence means parenting around them has become increasingly challenging. The exciting nature of screen time can trigger the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that makes us associate screens with pleasure and therefore something we want to spend more time with. These dopamine releases make it physically and mentally challenging for kids to put down technology. As a parent, think back to your childhood and how often you were watching a screen. It may have been for about an hour after dinner right? Let’s also think about what you were watching. It was most likely an hour long show that you had to wait until the following week to find out what happened next! Kids today are watching short-lived Youtube videos, 1-3 minute Tik-Toks, scrolling through social media, or binge watching a show with 10 episodes readily available. Research shows that these short clips of fast-paced programming have an immediate, measurable, negative impact on sustained attention and self-regulation. When screens displace activities like outdoor time, play, independent work and social interactions it can result in a kid missing out on valuable caregiver interactions that model and teach emotional regulation. Without those skills, a child might be quicker to anger, become frustrated or shut down.

Negative effects of increased technology use:

  • Decreased attention span and/or social interaction skills due to lack of peer interaction and engagement
  • Deficits in language and communication skills due to lack of reciprocal dialogue and social interaction
  • Difficulty sleeping: The blue light that screens omit, inhibits melatonin; our body’s sleep hormone
  • Risk factor for obesity: Engaging in a sedentary activity for extended periods of time increases this risk

Ways to Decrease Screen Time

Tips/ strategies to set boundaries and decrease screen time:

  • Keep certain times screen-free (i.e. during mealtimes, bed-time, and family time)
  • Set restrictions on the content/ apps that can be accessed 
  • Co-watch with your child so that the content is educational and appropriate. The parent can also help the child understand what they are watching 
  • Download games, apps, and YouTube content that are only educational
  • Parents can model healthy screen usage by decreasing the amount of time spent on their screens in front of their child
  • Set a family curfew for screen-usage (i.e. after 6:00pm, no more screens) 

Ways to take movement breaks:

Nowadays increased screen time is more common because of virtual learning and adults working from home. Here are some ways to take a break from the screen and get your body up and moving.   

  • 5 senses walk pointing out 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you can hear, 3 things that you can touch, 2 things that you can smell, and 1 thing that you can taste
  • Wheelbarrow walks across the room
  • Animal walks: Bear walks or crab walks 
  • Jumping jacks 
  • Crashing or jumping onto couch, mattress, or cushions 

Screen-free activities for families:

  • Make a fort out of pillows, blankets, chairs, furniture, etc. 
  • Get outside! There are so many fun activities that can take place outside; go for a walk, ride bikes, sidewalk chalk, water play with a hose or sprinkler, hide and seek
  • Karaoke or dance party 
  • Create a scavenger hunt around the house 
  • Have a game night

Screen-Free Toys under $22 that promote imaginative play and exploration:


Screen Time Carolina Therapy Connection

Neuro-diverse Hangout Night

Carolina Therapy Connection’s First Neuro-diverse Hangout Night!

Carolina Therapy Connection is so excited to announce that our first neuro-diverse hangout night will be on July 15th at 6:30 PM. This all inclusive hangout group is designed for pre-teens/young adults interested in engaging in shared experiences, positive peer relations and having fun! Leading this awesome group will be our friend Fiona Holler. Fiona is a 17 year old girl who is willing to share her experiences growing up with Autism Spectrum Disorder. She loves to help others and her goal is to spread awareness. For our first hangout night, we have 10 spots available for those between the ages of 11 and 18 years old. If you miss out on the first one, don’t worry! We plan to continue having these hangout sessions in the future. Click HERE to sign up!

What can I expect for the neuro-diverse hangout night?

Fiona has planned to begin the session with introducing the surroundings. This will include snacks and making sure everyone has an understanding that it is a judgement free zone. You are free to stim, tic, and sit anywhere that you are comfortable! Fiona would also like to engage all participants in introducing themselves, sharing their likes and dislikes, sharing challenges they have faced, discussing strengths and similar interests and much more!

Here are a few ground rules for this hangout:

    • This is a judgement free zone – please do not make fun of others or make inappropriate or rude comments. This is the opposite of the purpose of this group!
    • Everyone who wishes to speak is allowed to have their own turn to speak as long as it is appropriate and polite.
    • Please be mindful of others – some people may have different needs than you. Be kind and accepting!
    • If you don’t wish to share something you don’t have to – this is a safe place for everyone!
    • Please be encouraging and kind to the people around you – we will have a better experience when we are accepting of everyone!
    • Anything that anyone shares in this group that they wish to keep private stays in this group. 

What are the benefits of a neuro-diverse hangout?

People on the spectrum and their families benefit greatly from autism support groups and hangouts. Support groups and hangouts like this one can provide people with a space in which they can swap stories, share information, ideas and tips to help manage different parts of their lives, or simply enjoy being with people who have had similar experiences. Another benefit of support groups is that through these groups, parents who are present can learn about new resources, therapies, services, and most importantly create lasting friendships with other parents who are going through the same things as them. The greatest benefit of all is that everyone gets to have fun and feel good! Our greatest goal for this hangout night to make everyone feel comfortable and leave feeling better than they came. If you have any suggestions or questions about our neruro-diverse hangout night, call our clinic at 252-341-9944! We can’t wait to see you soon!




Autism Awareness

What is Autism Awareness Month?

In 1970, the Autism Society launched an ongoing nationwide effort to promote autism awareness and assure that all affected by autism are able to achieve the highest quality of life possible.  In 1972, the Autism Society launched the first annual National Autistic Children’s week, which evolved into Autism Acceptance Month (AAM). This April, Carolina Therapy Connection continues our efforts to spread awareness, promote acceptance, and ignite change alongside so many others across the nation.

How can I participate in doing my part?

The prevalence of Autism in the United States has risen from 1 in 125 children in 2010 to 1 in 59 in 2020. Recognizing this continued increase, the goal is to further increase awareness and global understanding about autism using support, kindness and compassion. Here are just a few ways you can participate this April:

  • Be informed – This doesn’t just mean looking up what the definition is on google or the signs/symptoms, but also learning how to interact with a person with Autism, and how to help them feel included, confident, safe and happy. Today it is becoming much more common to encounter someone with Autism and with doing the research, there would be a lot less struggle to even just say “hello.” You can view our resources page to learn more about Autism Spectrum Disorder and ways to become more educated about the diagnosis.  It is so important for the public to gain information directly from those with Autism.  Show empathy, learn their perspective and respect their voice!
  • Show your support – Use hashtags #CelebrateDifferences, #KindnessCounts, #Lightitupblue, and #WorldAutismMonth on social media. On April 2nd, 2021, wear blue to show your support. Autism Awareness month is all about making a month of kindness, towards others and yourself. We all get wrapped into the busy lives we live and forget to stop and say something kind to a coworker, friend, family member, or even a stranger. This is especially the month to be kind to those who are just a little bit different, but so special.
  • Get involved – A great way to get involved is joining in some type of program with the special needs population. These programs are all over Eastern NC and can also be found on our local resources page. Some of these programs include Special Needs sports teams, day programs for children or adults with Autism, runs or walks that may fund Autism research, and so many more. Get out and volunteer!

Autism Awareness From an Autistic Perspective

The Carolina Therapy Connection staff recently had the opportunity to hear an amazing presentation from Fiona Holler, a high school junior at John Paul II Catholic High School in Greenville, NC. Fiona explained in great detail what it has personally been like for her growing up with Autism. We look forward to looking with her more in the near future with setting up Autism support groups for kiddos and their families! Fiona is an enormous asset to the Autism community within and around Pitt County.

Here are a few points Fiona made during her presentation:

  • Neurodivergent vs Neurotypical: Neurodivergent people are those who have a differing mental or neurological function from what is considered typical (neurotypical people).
  • Sensory isn’t just a term for neurodivergent people. We all have sensory needs and we all take in sensory information through our bodies differently.
  • What is sensory pleasing to one autistic person may be completely different from another autistic person. Examples can include different lighting, specific noises, physical sensations, tastes and smells. Another really important aspect of sensory needs is that they can change. Sensory preferences are not always permanent and change more than people think! A lot of people with Autism often get frustrated when trying to communicate our sensory needs, which can often lead to things like stimming, or burnout.
  • Stimming refers to how neurodivergent individuals release and express their emotions. The misconception of stimming is that it is always a sign of stress or aggression. The truth is that stimming is used to describe a certain mechanism used to release a range of emotions, whether it be excited, sad, angry, happy, anxious, etc.
  • Masking refers to when people with Autism push down our stims and coping mechanisms in order to “blend in” with the neurotypical world. Masking doesn’t just refer to pushing down sensory pleasures, it can mean completely changing or disguising yourself as what society believes is “normal.”
  • Burnout refers to extreme tiredness and fatigue caused by masking, extreme sensory sensations, and/or the presence of extreme emotions (with and without masking).
  • Often times, a symptom of Autism is “special interests.” These are sometimes associated as a negative symptom. The term is called “special interest” because we as autistics tend to excessively fixate on a specific topic, usually much more than neurotypical people – special interests are good! Even though sometimes we need direct social cues, this doesn’t mean that sharing a special interest is wrong- it’s a matter of when it is and isn’t appropriate to share. Like stimming, these special interests often get frowned upon for how autistic people present them and or which age group the topic is meant for. This is very harmful to people with autism and can give us the wrong idea. Fiona explained that she grew up thinking she wasn’t allowed to express a special interest or stim without being labeled as incompetent.
  • A final thought: “Being autistic is very hard at times because whether we know or don’t know our diagnosis, it is easy to feel as if we don’t belong in this world of neurotypical people. We are trained to mask and hide our autism a lot of the times rather than to accept and love ourselves for who we are. I find myself knowing how to mask better than how to help myself. This is a very dangerous thing to teach our young autistic children. A lot of things about how autistic people regulate and how/what they think goes unsaid, which is why it is so important that we encourage the open conversation and genuine acceptance of autism. It’s okay to have questions about our diagnosis, just ask us kindly and we will answer the best we can. We’re people too.”


Sensory Sensitivities: What Can I Do?

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory processing disorder occurs when a child (or adult) experiences more than one significant sensory sensitivity that interferes with everyday life. One’s body must first register the arrival of new sensory stimuli in order to process and respond to it. Some kids have poor registration, meaning they have difficulty recognizing and attending to new sensory stimuli; other kids might have high registration, meaning they feel constantly bombarded by stimuli, even those that are insignificant to a typical person in their environment. Your child might also display sensory seeking or sensory avoidant behaviors in response to their differences in processing. It is important to remember that symptoms and behaviors may be inconsistent, with varying triggers, intensity, and frequency.

Sensory Avoidant Children

The many types of sensory stimuli typically elicit a calming or arousing response. When faced with an extremely arousing, alarming type of stimuli, our body’s fight or flight system can be activated. This leads to behaviors including, but not limited to, running away, yelling or crying, physical aggression, or self-injurious behaviors. Kids who experience sensitivities to certain types of stimuli typically exhibit avoidance behaviors towards the sources of this stimuli. It is possible to desensitize children’s experiences with certain sensory stimuli; however, this process should be designed and monitored by a licensed Occupational Therapist.

Sensory avoidant behaviors might include:

  • Difficulty with washing or brushing hair
  • Difficulty with tolerating hair cuts
  • Difficulty with brushing teeth
  • Difficulty with trimming nails
  • Upset by unexpected touch
  • Difficulty adjusting or tolerating being in a loud, crowded environment
  • Prefers solo play
  • Prefers stationary activities – avoids running, climbing, jumping, etc.
  • Gagging or other extreme response to certain food smells or textures

What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory integration refers to how your body recognizes, processes, and responds to information received by our sensory systems on an individual and combined level. This includes our traditional 5 senses, sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing; however, we also have proprioceptive and vestibular sensory systems.


  • Proprioception is our ability to sense the location, positioning, and movements of our body and its limbs. It allows us to navigate a crowded area without bumping into people and furniture in our path.
  • Vestibular sensation is housed in our inner ears and uses gravity to sense spatial orientation and movement. This system is responsible for maintaining balance during movement. If you or child is a victim of motion sickness, you have the vestibular system to blame!
  • Touch, or tactile sensation, comes from receptors in our skin found all over the body. Tactile sensation includes sensations of pain, temperature, pressure, and textures.
  • Taste 
  • Smell
  • Sight
  • Hearing

Understanding Sensory Overload & What You Can Do

Maintain a positive mindset: 

  • Move at your child’s pace. Never force a sensory experience on them. This will lead to broken trust – Remember that your child is experiencing these stimuli as an attack to their state of wellbeing and you are there to support and encourage them.
  • Start slow – simply tolerating being near aversive sensory stimuli is something to celebrate!
  • Give your child aspects of the situation to control by using conditional choices
    • “Would you like to brush your teeth first or take a bath first?”
    • “Would you like to try the peas or the carrots today?”
    • “Would you like to use the green or the blue finger paint?”
  • Desensitizing your child and creating new habits takes time! Progress can seem slow, but don’t get discouraged.

Activity ideas: 

  • Messy play – mud, dirt, water, food play, finger paints, shaving cream, bath bubbles, etc.
  • Noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs
  • Window shades or adjustable lights
  • Include your child in meal preparation process – encourage them to help whether with their hands or using cooking utensils to interact with the many food textures and smells
  • Food play – This is crucial when trying to expand your child’s diet. Encourage your child to interact with new foods in the most basic manner; the SOS Feeding Approach, used commonly by Occupational Therapists, encourages the following progression with new foods: See –> Touch –> Kiss –> Lick –> Taste –> Chew & Swallow. It is important to allow your child to move at their own pace and allow them to clean off hands or spit out food at any point along the continuum.
  • Sensory toys – Check out Ark Therapeutic, a leading manufacturer of innovative therapy tools and special needs products! They have great sensory toys, chews and fidgets that can help your child deal with sensory overload.
  • Finger painting – also try bathtub paint to reduce mess and give child control over cleaning off their hands
  • Listening to music

Check out this video of our AMAZING Occupational Therapist, Kelly, helping a child overcome a sensory fear.

How can Carolina Therapy Connection Help?

At Carolina Therapy Connection, we offer Sensory Integration Therapy and play-based treatment intervention that is specifically designed to stimulate and challenge all of the senses. Sensory Integration involves specific sensory activities (swinging, bouncing, brushing, and more) that are intended to help your child regulate his or her response to incoming sensory input. The outcome of these activities may be better focus and attention, improved behavior, and even lowered anxiety. Our therapists may work on  lowering a patient’s negative reactions to touch, help them become better aware of their body in space, and work on their ability to manage their bodies more appropriately (run and jump when it’s time to run and jump, sit and focus when it’s time to sit and focus, etc.). Various techniques include swinging, deep pressure therapy, which may include squeezing, rolling, etc., jumping on a trampoline, or gross motor play such as wall climbing, balance beam, etc.

Carolina Therapy Connection now has the largest and most state-of-the-art sensory gym in all of Eastern North Carolina!  Check out our 360° view of our sensory gym HERE. Our sensory gym is fully equipped with a zip-line, monkey bars, slides, scooter board ramps, ball pit, trampolines, rock climbing wall, and an expansive set of swings to offer a wide-variety of sensory experiences for each child.

If you have any questions or would like to schedule a screening for your child, call our clinic at (252) 341-9944 to learn more about what you can do and how we can help!



Sensory Sensitivities

Alphabet Scavenger Hunt Activity at Home

Alphabet Scavenger Hunt Activity at Home

Try this fun activity at home with your child- it can be adjusted for any age!

Instructions for the activity:

  • Make alphabet flash cards for your child to pick from
  • Have your child find something inside or outside that begins with that letter
  • Encourage your child to say the letter and the object
  • Talk about what the object does or how it is used
  • Have them write it out for extra practice!

How will this activity help my child succeed?

  • The alphabet scavenger hunt will help your child experience meaningful, hands-on alphabet practice
  • It integrates real-world identification with letters and sounds
  • This activity can provide necessary social interaction skills and even be made into a friendly competition with other children

We want to see your scavenger hunts.. tag us in your pics on social media!






Scavenger hunt

Sensory Walk Activity to do at Home!

Home with your kiddos and need some sensory suggestions?


This is a sensory walk that you can easily create at home with chalk and other materials (bins filled with rice, beans, dirt, sand, etc.).  This helps to promote balance, coordination, and following directions.  Try it at home and show us how you created your very own sensory walk!

sensory walk

Speech and Language Development

Speech and Language Development

All children have speech variations during their early language development. Perhaps your child switches different consonants or still mixes words with baby talk. All of these things are normal to a certain age. Some children grow out of these practices or figure out articulation once they have learned to read and see how things are spelled. Many parents wonder is this normal for a child their age, or is there a problem? And if so, what should they do?

Is This Normal?

“Parents should be able to understand at least 50% of what a toddler is saying by their second birthday. By age three, parents should understand most (90%) of what a child is saying. By age four, strangers should understand most (90%) of what a child is saying,” says Laura Mize, a pediatric speech-language pathologist in her blog, Teach Me to Talk.

Thankfully, there are developmental milestones that can help determine if your child needs help with articulation. Teach Me to Talk has a list of first targets for speech intelligibility in toddlers.

What Do I Look For?

The first question to ask yourself is Is my child using the correct number of syllables in a word? 

Even if your child is not saying words perfectly, look for the correct use of syllables. This helps with determining what word they are trying to say, and helps differentiate from other words that may have similar sounds. If your child is having trouble with this, try clapping out syllables to help them hear the difference. This will help with communication before they use full sentences.

Next, Is my child using correct vowel sounds in words? 

If your child has an issue with dropping particular vowels, you can introduce those sounds in play. Using troublesome vowels as sound effects while playing helps your child become familiar with a sound that is difficult for them.

Can my child use two different vowel sounds in words, or does he always copy the first sound for the next syllable?

When a child is learning to speak, repeating vowels, such as “baba” for bottle, are used to simplify words. However, some children do not grow out of this stage, and therefore need help learning how to change the second vowel.

The next question to ask is, Is my child learning consonant sounds in the beginnings of words and syllables? 

Omitting beginning consonant sounds make if very hard to understand what a child is saying, especially when many words are strung together in a full sentence. Speech therapy is a wonderful tool to help a child develop those missing sounds.

And lastly, Is my child using ending consonant sounds? 

Dropping endings, lisping, and ending in vowel sounds instead of the desired consonant are some of the most common reasons for speech therapy. There are many tips and tricks to help a child learn and be aware of those ending sounds.

What Is The Next Step?

If you notice your child is not reaching these milestones, there are options! Speech therapy is a wonderful tool that not only helps your child with their speech, but it also helps with communication, comprehension, social skills, expanding vocabulary, articulation, and many other areas. If your child is in need of therapy, it is best to begin as soon as possible. Children enrolled in therapy early (before they’re 5 years old) tend to have better outcomes than those who begin therapy later. Older kids may progress at a slower rate, because they often have learned patterns that need to be changed.

ASHA describes articulation disorders as the difficulty of producing sounds in syllables or saying words incorrectly to the point that listeners can’t understand what’s being said.

Mommy Speech Therapy gives a great overview of the process of articulation therapy. “First practice the sound in isolation, then in syllables, words, sentences, stories, conversation and finally generalizing the target sound in all contexts of language.”

Where Should My Child Go?

There are various approaches to articulation therapy. Our speech therapists here at Carolina Therapy Connection are specialized in articulation therapy, and each session is designed with your child’s specific needs in mind. They physically show the child how to make certain sounds, and may demonstrate how to move the tongue to produce specific sounds. Not only do our therapists work with your child, but they work with you as a parent to enhance learning in the home.

One of the many strengths of Carolina Therapy Connection is the multi-disciplined aspect of our clinic. Some children with speech needs only need speech therapy, but often, children have a need for other therapy as well. We offer speech therapy, feeding therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and educational assessments. Our therapists are trained to notice any other needs for children they treat, and can help determine if an evaluation is needed. Our focus is the wellness of the child. All of our therapists work together to insure they are receiving all the help they need to reach their highest potential!

speech therapy for kids