Lunch Trays, Milk Cartons, and Kindergarten: One handed

serving food with one handI have a year before my son, who has left hemiplegia, starts all day kindergarten, and I’ve recently been having an anxiety attack about him having to carry a lunch tray, open a carton of milk, cut up his own food or open any packages on his own. He is no where near doing any of that. I do understand that all kindergarten kids will need help, but eventually they won’t. I also know I can have someone help him and place this into his IEP (individualized education program), but I don’t want that either. Eventually he will not want someone helping him. I am getting a lunch tray so we can practice at home and I’m going to buy milk from the school too. Any advice? Any easy ways to open those milks one handed?

Take a breath and practice, practice, practice! You’re a year out, so you have time to do this and you’re so wise to start early. If your son has typical strength in his unaffected side, his right hand, he can learn to do all of these things on his own. We suggest that the parent first to learn to do each of these things with one hand. While your son may develop a different method, it’s often useful for you to know how to do it and demonstrate your method for him. You may need to break each task down into small steps.

How to Open a Milk Carton with One Hand

Place carton between your legs while sitting down to stabilize the carton.  Insert thumb into space below opening. Use thumb to push tabs out to the side. Rake fingers across tops of tabs until they loosen, then pull open. The video below shows a one-handed method of opening a milk carton.

Carrying a Lunch Tray with One Hand

When your son is older, he’ll likely be able to do this because his dominant hand will be very strong, but for now, he probably needs to assist with his other hand. He may be able to learn to grasp both sides of the tray and carry it. Placing a Dycem mat on the tray before food is added may keep things from sliding around. Many kids with hemiplegia grasp one side of the tray with their dominant hand and place their affected arm under the tray. This takes a bit of practice to master balancing items on the tray, but it can definitely be done. Suggest going back to pick up the drink separately if it’s in an open glass.carrying plate with one hand

Cutting up Food with One Hand

A person with hemiplegia has several methods for cutting food. If he is able to grasp a fork in his affected hand, he may be able to stab food with fork and cut with a knife in the traditional fashion. This does tend to go slowly and if the lunch period is short, may not be ideal. He could ask that food be cut up in advance. Adults with hemiplegia often do this when ordering meat at a restaurant. Older children can use a rocker knife, but this is not an option for a younger child without direct supervision. He could learn to turn his fork on the side and really press down to cut food. All of these take practice, including asking that his food be cut up. We suggest you have him practice asking this when he goes to restaurants. Yes, you may encounter a few shocked looks as the wait staff wonders if you’re just an extremely lazy parent, but practicing these skills now will prepare him for advocating for himself when you’re not around.

Opening Food Packages with One Hand

Some kids use their teeth to open packages, but we’re quite certain your child’s dentist would not prefer this method. Try telling that to a hungry kid! Sending a pair of scissors to lunch is the easy method.

Take Your Lunch To School

If you send lunch to school with your child, you’ll avoid many of the “how do I open this at lunch” challenges, but he won’t have a chance to practice the skills he needs for living in an adult world. He’s starting Kindergarten, and he has some time before he arrives there, so if he’s absolutely not ready, then don’t feel that you need to force it. Keep practicing skills at home. Write into his IEP that he needs help and then set goals for accomplishing each task as he becomes ready for it. Mastering these tasks will increase his self esteem and make him independent, so keep practicing!

Read more about school issues faced by kids with hemiplegia – keyboarding with one hand, handwriting with hemiplegia, and bullying.