(2010) Revelation from a Paper Plate

Published in S.I. Focus, Summer issue

Imagine coming to one of my “Getting Kids in Sync” presentations. You are here to learn new strategies for supporting children with SPD. At the door, you receive a warm welcome, a hefty handout, and two paper plates.

Get a cup of coffee and snack, but please, do not put food on the plates. We’ll use them in many different ways — just not for bagels and berries!

During our synergetic day, one activity is drawing on a paper plate. This activity requires some thought, so it comes immediately after a break. From years of teaching, I know you will think better if given opportunities to stretch and move every 10 minutes or so.

Tip: Human beings are born to move. Movement gets the body and brain in sync and makes learning easier. Want your child to be ready to learn? A few minutes devoted to a physical action, such as jumping or swinging, prepares him for the cognitive action of reasoning and problem-solving.

Once you all are refreshed and reseated, I say, “Please get one of your paper plates. Then I’ll give you an assignment.”

What? An assignment? Now you are alert and possibly on guard, because you don’t know what is expected. You may fumble as you search for the plate. Take your time. We’ll wait until everyone is ready.

Tip: Rushing a person to do a novel task is counterproductive. “Doing,” or “praxis,” takes practice. Want your child to taste success when trying a new task? Give her plenty of time to ideate (conceive of) what she needs to do, to do the necessary motor planning, and to carry out her motor plan. Practice leads to praxis!

Got your plate? Paying attention? Great!

I say, “On your plate, sketch an experience you had as a child that you like to think about, now that you are an adult. This memorable experience may have happened once, or many times.” As Robert Schumann’s Traumerai (Scenes from Childhood) plays in the background, you pick up your pen and begin to draw.

Tip: Instrumental music (especially by Mozart, Bach, Schumann or other classical composers) is conducive to reading and writing. Music with lyrics (i.e., songs or opera), however, competes with these verbal tasks. Want your child to improve her study skills? Encourage her to listen to quiet music without words.

After a minute, I stop the music and get your attention by blowing into a slide whistle. You alert to the sound as the whistle rapidly glides up and down a musical scale.

♬ Whooosh! Whooosh.

Tip: People with SPD or autism often have an affinity for music, drum beats, poetry, and chants. Rhythmic patterns help their brains get organized so they can pay attention. Want your child to listen to you? Sing it, strum it, clap it, or tap it!

When you are all ears, I say, “Briefly share your story with the person next to you — or with two other people, so everyone is included. This story-sharing can be a ‘twosie’ or a ‘threesie’ activity.”

Tip: People with SPD often feel isolated. Want your child to feel part of the family or group? In conversation or activity, be mindful about ways to include everyone.

The room is abuzz as you and your neighbor(s) describe wonderful childhood memories. You gesture, laugh, nod in understanding, and lean toward your new friends. After a few minutes of “speed stories,” you again hear the slide whistle’s glissando whooshing up and down to get your attention.

Now I say, “Let’s hear some of your stories. Someone, please volunteer to tell your story in a few sentences.”

You may think, “Is this a trick question? What might my story reveal about myself? It was just about climbing a tree…. Would others consider it silly?” You — and many others in the room — may freeze.

Tip: When your senses take in a sudden, unexpected message, you are instantly aroused and self-protective. Your brain integrates and organizes sensory messages to help you assess whether you are in danger — and whether to fight, to take flight or fright, or to freeze. Only when your senses tell you that you do not need to be defensive, can you relax and use your senses to discriminate what is going on around you. Want your child to be an active and discriminating learner? First make sure your child feels safe!

If no one in the hotel ballroom ventures to share a story, I’ll offer one of mine, such as raking with my family and then jumping and rolling in a pile of fragrant, crunchy, colorful autumn leaves.

Tip: Throughout the day, everyone needs the sensation of deep pressure to the skin, muscles and joints. Want to calm your over-responsive child … or to arouse your under-responsive child? Let her run and jump into a pile of leaves, hay or snow or onto a mound of cushions, or give her a “Squeezit” (bear hug) until her sensory system gets in sync.

My leaf-pile anecdote alleviates your worry. It’s okay, this story sharing is a safe activity, and soon hands go up. We hear stories about building dams in the creek, jumping from swings, rolling down hills, and bike riding with buddies. We hear about what you did with trampolines and tree stumps … roller skates and rowboats … brownies and mudpies … horses, hikes, and hopscotch.

After several memorable stories, I say, “Even without hearing every story, I know a few things about what you drew, because your experiences share many common qualities. Times may change, but children’s needs stay the same.”

Most of your drawn experiences were:

  • Outdoors. If your story was outside, I ask you to raise your hand and look around the room. You turn and see a forest of hands.
  • Sensory-rich. Most of your reminiscences involve active touch, movement, vision and hearing, and perhaps smelling and tasting, too. The more meaningful and memorable an experience, the more senses are integrated. (Because they are essential for survival, the two human activities that use all senses simultaneously are eating and lovemaking. Watching TV uses only vision and hearing.)
  • Safe. Even if the activity was very challenging, you felt secure enough to keep going. You had “inner drive” to satisfy your curiosity, reach beyond your grasp, try new moves, or vary the game to make it more complex. You climbed out further on the branch, bowled with your left hand, planted peach and cherry pits together to produce a mystery fruit, and so forth.
  • Social. You were probably with family or friends, all relatively dependable and predictable. No bullies, no spoilers —just cohorts. You were part of a team. You felt needed. (Even if reading was an extremely pleasurable pastime when you were a child, you probably have not drawn it on your plate. Being alone may have been pleasant, but participating in activities with others is more memorable.)
  • Untimed. The experiences were over when they were over — when you were satisfied, or went home for supper. No clock imposed an artificial ending to the activity.
  • Meaningful. You had some or much control of the situation, and you were learning or developing a new skill that you could generalize to other scenarios.
  • Desirable. You liked the experience so much that you wanted to repeat it.
  • Active. You were the doer — not the “do-ee” who passively allowed the experience to happen without your participation.
  • Not in the classroom. Let’s hope that as educators bring more sensory-motor experiences into the classroom, this will change!
  • Independent of electronic equipment. You were using kid power, not electric or battery power. You — not purchased, plugged-in games — were the source of your own entertainment.

What do you think your children will draw on their plates, 20 years hence? If we provide many sensory-rich opportunities to move and play (especially outdoors), we can ensure that their memories will be as meaningful as ours.

Thank you for coming to the presentation and for engaging in this paper plate activity. In a future article, we’ll consider more sensory-motor and perceptual-motor experiences with paper plates, designed to get you and your children actively moving, learning, and growing “in-sync.”

 

(2010) Two “Look-Alikes”: Sensory Processing Disorder and Attention Deficit Disorder

Published Summer 2010.

Picture Brian. While the other children are settling down to a workbook task, Brian rocks in his seat, whining, “Owwuu,” and rubbing his arm where a classmate grazed him en route to her chair. Abruptly, he stands and shoves his desk away from passing children.

The teacher frowns. “Sit down, stay put, and start working, Brian!”

He wriggles in his seat. “Um, what are we supposed to do?”

“Pay attention! Page 36, even-numbered questions.”

He gropes inside his messy desk, finally locates the workbook, and drops it. Retrieving it, he sags to the floor. He plops into the chair again, grips a pencil like a dagger, and starts writing — but presses so hard that the point breaks. He hurls the pencil across the room and screams, “I hate this!”

Brian is inattentive, impulsive, and fidgety. Does he have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – or Sensory Processing Disorder? Recognizing the differences between these two disorders and providing appropriate treatment can greatly benefit children and adults like Brian.

Like ADHD, SPD is a neurological problem affecting behavior and learning. Unlike ADHD, SPD is not treated with medicine. Instead, occupational therapy using a sensory integration framework (“OT-SI”) helps most. This therapy addresses underlying difficulties in processing sensations that cause inattention and hyperactivity.

In The Out-of-Sync Child, I define SPD as the “difficulty in how the brain takes in, organizes, and uses sensory information, causing a person to have problems interacting effectively in the everyday environment.” Sensory stimulation – too much, too little, or the wrong kind – may cause poor motor coordination, incessant movement, attentional problems, and impulsive behavior as the person strives to get less, or more, sensory input.

Brian’s central nervous system inefficiently processes tactile sensations. The slightest touch overwhelms him. A “sensory avoider,” he is over-responsive and cannot regulate, or “modulate,” sensory input. Also, touch stimulation confuses him. A “sensory jumbler,” Brian cannot discriminate differences among sensations.

How does his SPD play out? Brian cannot interpret how objects feel when they contact his skin. His chair, desk contents, workbook, pencil, and classmates bother or befuddle him. Fidgeting and squirming, he pays a lot of attention to averting ordinary tactile sensations. Meanwhile, he pays scant attention to the teacher’s words or classroom rules.

Imagine Dana, a child who processes movement and balance sensations very slowly. This under-responsive child, or “sensory disregarder,” has difficulty starting or stopping an activity. With encouragement, she eventually settles into a swing, enjoying the movement that helps her nervous system get organized. However, Dana does not know when to stop. She swings and swings, inattentive to her own body-centered sensations screaming, “Enough!” 

Envision Jayson, a “sensory craver” who needs much more action than his peers. An impulsive “bumper and crasher,” he seeks intense, vigorous movement. Constantly, he rocks, climbs, gets upside-down, and gyrates, darting from one experience to another. He pays much attention to satisfying his craving for movement and little attention to his mother’s instructions or where he left his shoes.

Inattention . . . impulsivity . . . fidgetiness … constant movement … these are definitely symptoms of SPD.

Now consider this definition for Attention Deficit Disorder: a “neurological syndrome characterized by serious and persistent inattention and impulsivity. When constant, fidgety movement (hyperactivity) is an additional characteristic, the syndrome is called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.”

Inattention … impulsivity … fidgetiness … constant movement. These are definitely symptoms of ADHD.

SPD and ADHD are certainly “look-alikes.” However, they are distinct disorders, and optimum treatment for the two problems is very different. Before jumping to conclusions (and to drug therapy), professionals, parents, and teachers should consider the whole child to thoughtfully determine the best support.

If the child is frequently, but not always, inattentive, it is useful to observe her behavior and ask: Where, when, and how often does her inattention occur? What is happening, or not happening, when she concentrates well? What is her “self-therapy”?

When overloaded, an over-responsive child needs less stimulation. How can we help? We can undo something! Over-the-counter first aid for this child might be decreasing the offending sensations. We can make the environment softer, dimmer, quieter, calmer.

Then, we can do something! Comfort her with “deep pressure,” such as a massage or bear hug. Create a retreat under the dining room table or in a classroom corner, with pillows and a sleeping bag to burrow into. Apply deep pressure on skin and muscles to get her organized and ready to participate and learn. Provide heavy-work activities: pushing a grocery cart, pulling a wagon, lifting weights, or carrying a book carton. Ensure daily outdoor play. (Movement always helps, so the more recess, the better.) Jog together around the block or playground. Offer 3 opportunities for gentle roughhousing. Give her a rolling pin for pressing dough, a shovel for digging, a bar for chinning, a hammock for swaying, a wad of gum for chewing, a trampoline for jumping.

When “underloaded,” an under-responsive or sensory-seeking child needs extra sensory stimulation. Again, we can do something! Provide sensory-motor experiences like those mentioned above. The under-responsive or seeking child needs them, too, in varying degrees, for similar activities may calm one type of child and invigorate or satisfy another.

Providing just the right sensory-motor input will certainly help a child with SPD. No surprise, sensory-motor input will also help the child with ADHD. Indeed, it will help everyone, because we all require frequent, daily sensory-motor experiences.

Not psychostimulants, but a sensory diet may be the best “medicine” for the child with attention problems. (An occupational therapist can develop an individualized sensory diet with appropriate touch and movement experiences.) An approach that excludes drugs and includes movement, deep pressure, and heavy work never hurts and often helps the inattentive child whose problem is not ADHD but developmentally delayed sensory processing.

 

References:

Ayres, A.J., PhD (2005). Sensory Integration and the Child: Understanding Hidden Sensory Challenges. Los Angeles: Western Psychological Services.

Biel, L., & Peske, N. (2005). Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues. New York: Penguin.

Kranowitz, C. (2005). The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder. New York: Perigee. Kranowitz, C. (2006). The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder. New York: Perigee.

Kranowitz, C., & Newman, J. (2010). Growing an In-Sync Child. New York: Perigee.

Miller, L.J., PhD, with Fuller, D.A. (2006). Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder. New York: Putnam.

Smith, K.A., PhD, & Gouze, K.R., PhD (2004). The Sensory-Sensitive Child: Practical Solutions for Out-of-Bounds Behavior. New York: Harper Collins.

 

(2009) Making Sense of the Senses by Cynthia Ramnarace

Children who have sensory processing disorder find it hard to take in
the world around them.  By Cynthia Ramnarace
Kiwi Magazine: Growing Families the Natural and Organic Way, January/February 2009

At first, Lisa Copen thought her then-2-year-old son, Josh, was just a high-spirited boy. So when she had trouble keeping up with his endless running and jumping, Copen initially blamed her rheumatoid arthritis.
But as Josh got older, his symptoms became more pronounced.  In preschool he constantly leaned on other children and wanted to hold something in his hand at all times. During mealtimes he refused to eat anything but crunchy foods. “As a mom you think, ‘This
is just a phase’,” Copen says. “But then you’re around these mothers whose kids are eating tofu like it’s the best thing ever, and you start to wonder why your child is different.”

Copen searched for an answer. Autism screenings came back negative, and doctors advised against testing for ADHD until Josh was at least five. But when Copen read The Out-of-Sync Child, by Carol Kranowitz, she learned that kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) have difficulty organizing information from their senses into appropriate actions. Josh fit the description perfectly.

SPD is unrecognized by the American Psychiatric Association, despite the fact that it was first identified nearly 4o years ago. Today, occupational therapists receive training on the topic, and a movement is afoot to add SPD to the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual. Since many doctors (including Copen’s pediatrician) are not fully versed on the treatment of SPD, Josh goes to an occupational therapist to learn the skills he needs to cope with the disorder.
SPD can manifest itself in different ways. For kids who over-respond to sensational input, stimulation such as lights, noise and touch can be unbearable.  On the other hand, under-responsive children (like Josh) crave constant stimulation.

In general, kids with SPD display “unusual responses to touch and movement,” says Carol Kranowitz, author of The Out-of-Sync Child. According to Kranowitz, these symptoms usually appear early in life. “Some babies don’t like being touched,” she says.  “In other cases, the baby is into everything — he wants more touch and more movement. The child is often either avoiding movement or is only satisfied when moving.”

SPD can lead to motor and behavioral problems, failure in school, anxiety and depression.  “Kids with SPD have low self-confidence,” says Kranowitz. “They say things like, ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I’m no good at that’ before they even try.”  But therapy can help these children succeed at simple activities such as playing on a playground. “The whole attitude improves,” Kranowitz says.  “Suddenly the child is saying, ‘I’m going to try that’ or ‘I’m good at that.’”
Treatment for SPD varies according to a child’s needs. Some kids go to occupational therapy in order to tolerate new foods or permit being touched by other people. For others, physical therapy helps improve balance and reduce clumsiness.

If parents suspect their child may have SPD, they should seek help right away. State departments of health offer early intervention services, and parents can find an SPD-trained therapist through the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, at www.spdfoundation.net.

SPD: A COMPLEX AFFLICTION
Sensory processing disorder affects how a person interprets information that’s delivered by the body’s senses. Here’s how the symptoms of SPD manifest themselves in various body systems.

THE TACTILE SYSTEM Some children are over-responsive to physical sensation and avoid being touched or touching new objects. Other kids want to touch everything — and with as much force as possible.

THE VESTIBULAR SYSTEM Children with SPD either love motion and are thrill-seekers who fidget constantly, or they dislike motion and may lose their balance easily and be generally clumsy.

THE PROPRIOCEPTIVE SYSTEM Children might deliberately crash into objects or constantly chew on pencils, shirt collars and toys.  It is difficult for them to plan the necessary steps to complete an action, such as putting on a shirt.

THE VISUAL SYSETM Eye-strain headaches are common, as is moving the head instead of the eyes when reading. These kids also have trouble repeating patterns, such as in a block tower, or stringing beads on a thread.

THE AUDITORY SYSTEM Everything from loud, sudden noises to soft background music can be distressing. SPD kids are also easily distracted by other sounds they hear while trying to participate in a conversation.

(2005) Indoor Obstacle Courses for Parents and Teachers

Published in Sensations, Volume 3, Issue 2 (September 2005), newsletter for The KID Foundation (now STAR Institute for Sensory Processing Disorder)
Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and kids gotta climb, jump, and balance. While dangling from banisters, scooting under turnstiles, teetering on curbs, and jumping into puddles may dismay grown-ups, children persist with good reason.

How do kids learn to think and relate to the world around them? By scanning their surroundings; touching wooden, metal, rubber, or concrete surfaces; grasping and releasing handholds; changing body positions; maintaining equilibrium; and experimenting with different movement patterns. Furthermore, they are having fun, and “fun,” Dr. Ayres wrote, “is the child’s word for sensory integration.”

An obstacle course is sensational, both to provide fun and to promote praxis. Praxis, a sensory-based process, involves: Ideation (having an idea of something you want to do); Motor planning (figuring how to do it); and Execution (carrying out the plan). Just as the person who chops his own wood is warmed twice, the person who builds and moves through his own obstacle course strengthens praxis many times over.

You and your child can build an obstacle course outdoors, where everything is better, or indoors in bad weather. You don’t need special equipment – just a fresh way of looking at ordinary objects, with an eye on how they can promote sensory processing.
WHAT TO DO
1) Brainstorm, or ideate, with your kids to make three lists with these headings: Ways to Move, Prepositions, and Objects. Encourage children to tell or show you what they have in mind. For example:
Ways to Move:
Step, walk, creep (on all fours), crawl (on belly), scoot (on bottom), roll, somersault, jump (two feet), hop (one foot), leap, run
Prepositions:
Up, upon, down, into, onto, between, beneath, beside, under, over, through, across, around
Objects:
Consumables: Construction paper shapes, shoeboxes, paper plates, bubble wrap, masking tape, Bottle Babies (2-liter soda bottles, half-filled with colored water)
Kitchen: Stools, chairs, mixing bowls
Garage: Sawhorses, boards, inner tubes, tires, thick rope, flower pots, tarpaulins
Household: Wastebaskets, couch cushions, mattress, bridge table, exercise bench, telephone books, wash tubs, rugs, carpet squares, and sheet to drape over chairs for a tent
Kids’ equipment: Plastic hoops, big blocks, gym mats, Crash Pad (duvet cover, stuffed with pillows and foam blocks)

2) Together, plan the course by mixing and matching list ingredients, e.g.:
Step / Into / Shoe boxes
Scoot / Around / Wastebaskets
Creep / Under / Table
Crawl / Through / Tunnel
Walk / Between / Lines of tape
Somersault / Across / Mattress
Roll / Over / Bearskin rug
Jump / On / Bubble wrap
Vary movements, prepositions and objects to reinforce children’s ability to handle and discriminate different materials (tactile sense), stretch muscles and develop body awareness (tactile/proprioceptive senses), balance and move through space (vestibular sense), perceive spatial relationships and negotiate around obstacles (visual-motor skills), and improve motor planning, coordination and postural responses (sensory-based motor skills).

3) Execute the plan by laying out the course. In tight spaces, such as a hallway, a linear course is okay for one or two kids. In the yard or cleared room a circular course is best for a crowd. Let youngsters help! Kids with SPD often sense what their systems need; honor their ideas and be flexible about altering the plan. Also, remember that the heavy work of lifting, carrying, pushing and pulling materials into place is like over-the-counter OT.
TIPS

  • Have everyone travel in the same direction to avoid traffic jams.
  • Prior to a happy birthday party, practice building and going through a course with your child so she feels in-the-know, adept, and ready to help her friends if they get stuck.
  • For holidays, spice up the course with seasonal accents, e.g.:

Valentine’s Day:

  • Use red Bottle Babies (soda bottles half-filled with tinted water) to circumnavigate
  • Make a curvy or soft, heart-shaped path with red masking tape
  • Stick down red paper hearts to jump on and red arrows to manage the flow

President’s Day:

  • Play patriotic music
  • Emphasize red, white and blue objects (sheets, cushions, tape, hoops)

St. Patrick’s Day:

  • Tape tiny paper feet along the course so kids can follow the leprechaun’s path
  • At the start, hand each child a large gold piece to toss into a pot at the end
  • Have the kids go barefoot, or backwards, or with music.
  • Incorporate your child’s favorite theme. Does he love trains? Pretend that obstacles are the locomotive, freight car, caboose. Are planets her thing? Obstacles can be Mercury, Venus, Earth. State capitals? Hartford, Annapolis, Denver. This thematic technique may jump-start the child who is not a self-starter.
  • Be vigilant about safety. Allow sufficient space between obstacles for the child to readjust his posture before moving to the next. Always be there.

To give children the chance to master new physical challenges, learn problem-solving skills and develop praxis, make an obstacle course every day! Build it, and they will come.

For more on obstacle courses and heavy work activities, see The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, revised (Perigee, 2006), The Goodenoughs Get in Sync (Sensory Resources, 2004), and Growing an In-Sync Child (Sensory World, 2010).

(2005) “Great SI Resources for Families” — Review by Trinell Bull

Published in Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners (February 21, 2005)

Finally, a book written in “kid language” to help children with sensory processing disorders understand their senses! The Goodenoughs Get in Sync is a charming story that will delight young readers and adults alike as they learn about sensory modulation disorders, sensory discrimination disorders, and sensory-based motor disorders.

The book describes a tough day in the life of the five-member Goodenough family and their naughty dog, Filibuster. Darwin, 11, who has a sensory-processing disorder, describes a “meltdown.” Edward, 5, is sensory unresponsive, and because of his poor oral-motor skills, has difficulty with his speech. Carrie, age 13, is a “sensory slumper and fumbler,” and she enlightens readers with her challenges with dyspraxia and postural disorders.

The author has cleverly used two different size fonts – one for the main story and another in smaller print that provides technical information on what being “out-of-sync” means. And the story explains occupational therapy by describing how the family benefits from the valuable input of Grace, the Goodenoughs’ occupational therapist.

This book is a quick read for students and parents alike, and it can help explain the valuable role OT plays in unraveling sensory processing challenges. In the appendix, Darwin Goodenough describes the family’s indoor and outdoor sensory diet activities for “self regulation,” along with equipment suppliers, web sites, and a glossary.

This book can be obtained from Sensory Resources, 2500 Chandler Avenue, Suite 3, Las Vegas, NV 89120-4064. www.SensoryResources.com

Trinell Bull is an occupational therapist with the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit in Lewisburg, PA, where she serves preschool and school-age children.

(2005) “A Wonderful Book” — Review by Jillian Copeland and Lois McCabe

Published in Washington Parent’s supplement, “All Kinds of Kids” (Spring/Summer, 2005)

The Goodenoughs Get in Sync describes the varying degrees of sensory processing disorders that each of the five Goodenough family members faces. This well written, uniquely styled book catalogs Sensory Modulation Disorder (Sensory Over-Responsivity, Sensory Under-Responsivity, Sensory Seeking), Sensory Discrimination Disorder, and Sensory-Based Motor Disorder (Postural Disorders and Dyspraxia).

Each of the five members of this family describes, from a first person’s point of view, how their bodies feel, how they deal with their differing sensory feelings, and the different activities, strategies and coping mechanisms they use. They detail the exercises, equipment, body movements and dietary changes that enable them to have better control over their sensory systems.

This is a book to read to your children, or for your children to read on their own. It is written in an interactive form so that children with similar processing disorders can understand not only that other people have the same feelings that they do, but they can also begin to understand the reasons their bodies are acting a certain way.

Carol Stock Kranowitz has written a wonderful book that explains, in easy-to-read language, the many troubling and confusing issues that make up sensory processing disorders.

(2004) In Praise of Mud

Published in S.I. Focus magazine (Winter issue), and adapted from a 1990 article originally in Carol’s column, “Gentle Reminders,” in Parent and Child magazine

A child comes to school on a soggy day. Tentatively approaching a puddle, she sticks in one spotless boot, watching with interest as her foot sinks into the mud. She puts in the other boot. She is entranced. Looking up, she says to her teacher, “Is this mud? It’s fun! Is it okay?”

A child comes to school in his caregiver’s immaculate car. Tearfully, he announces, “My babysitter said not to get dirty.” He cannot be persuaded to paint at the easel, jump in the mulch, or wriggle on the floor like a caterpillar, although he itches to get into the play.

A child comes to school on a wintry Monday. He says, “Daddy and I watched football all weekend. We’re couch potatoes!” Good news: Big Potato and Potato Chip spent time together. Bad news: they limited their sensory stimulation to watching television. They missed the chance at half time to engage in active, physical contact with each other, a leathery football, scrubby turf, and frosty air.

What’s wrong here? Have our children lost the freedom to get down and get dirty? Growing up to be tidy is commendable, but many children seem to be maturing without a strong sensitivity to touch.

The touch (or tactile) sense is essential to children’s development. Like vision and hearing, touch opens the main avenues of learning. Much of our knowledge about the importance of touch comes from the field of sensory integration (or sensory processing), pioneered by A. Jean Ayres, PhD, OTR. Her research revealed that the ability to interpret tactile information not only promotes optimum development of the young child’s nervous system, but also helps the child learn about his world.

Learning about the environment is a child’s primary occupation. His brain needs to process and organize all kinds of sensory information, just as his body needs all kinds of food to function best. His tactile sense provides information about texture, shape, density, pressure, temperature, and other attributes of the world.

Nature’s plan is simple: let the senses, working in sync, do the teaching. For children whose sensory processing develops typically, learning through messy play is pleasant and interesting. They know how to get the just-right amount to satisfy their neurological system. Some children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), however, may seem never to get enough tactile experiences; they crave more, more, more. Others may have tactile overresponsivity (or defensiveness), causing them to avoid touching and being touched. Whether seekers or avoiders, kids with SPD need tactile activities just as much as typical kids do.

When we encourage tactile experiences, we do more than provide vital nourishment for children’s maturing brains. We do more than offer the unadulterated fun of molding mud pies. We also open the way that may become their preferred route to learning. Just as the photographer Ansel Adams took the visual route, the composer Mozart the aural, and the sculptor Rodin the tactile, so each of us chooses one favorite mode.

What if Rodin’s babysitter didn’t let him get his hands dirty because he’d soil the upholstery? What if Julia Child’s mother kept her out of the kitchen because she’d spill flour? Or Jacques Cousteau’s father told him to read instead of lingering in the bathtub? Or the pope advised Gregor Mendel to pray more and spend less time messing with sweet peas? How deprived we all would be!

Rather than deprive our children, let’s broaden their sensory input with activities that are S.A.F.E. (Sensory-motor, Appropriate, Fun and Easy). Let’s provide tactile sensations of dough, water, clay, glue, rock, mud, sap, earth, paint, feathers and fur. Children thrive when their bodies ingest and digest all kinds of sensory stimuli. They may develop to their greatest potential if they have opportunities to feel rain on their faces, leaves in their hair, goo on their fingers, and mud between their toes.

SOME S.A.F.E. TACTILE EXPERIENCES FOR PRESCHOOLERS

• Finger-painting on a tray with chocolate pudding. This open-ended, hands-on activity feels as good as it tastes. Next time, offer shaving cream and enjoy the smell and easy clean-up.

• Digging for worms. Handling worms is about as tactile as you can get.

• Going barefoot, lakeside. The differences between firm and squishy, warm and cold, dry and wet are worth investigating.

• Forming rice balls or meatballs.

• Kneading playdough or real dough. Make shapes, people, pretzels, or blobs.

• Ripping paper. Strips of newspaper are useful to line the hamster cage. Strips of construction paper or tissue paper make beautiful collages. Remember that the process, not the product, is the goal.

• Discovering treasures in a Feely Box. (Cut a hand-sized hole in a shoebox lid. Fill the box with lentils, cotton balls, packing peanuts, or sand. Add buttons, shells, uncooked macaroni, or small toys.) The idea is to thrust a hand through the hole and let the fingers do the seeing. No peeking!

• Collecting seeds, pebbles, or shells in an egg carton. Loading up the receptacles and dumping them out is great fun for a very young child. The ability to sort and classify the items comes later.

• Petting the pet. Drying a wet dog, stroking a kitten, providing a finger perch for a parakeet, or hugging a baby are tactile experiences that make a child feel good, inside and out.

(2002) Wisdom from a Preschool Teacher

Posted on Child.com, September

A mother tells me how excited she is about her toddler’s “educational” computer game. Just click the mouse and presto – one, two, three oranges bound into a bucket. Click again, and they reappear, one, two, three. Isn’t that a fabulous way to learn counting? What is my opinion, as a preschool teacher?

“How about giving him a bucket and three oranges?” I ask. “Then he can touch and hold them, smell them, toss them, and enjoy a real experience.”

“That seems so old-fashioned!” she says.

Old-fashioned is right! And often, old-fashioned is better. Times change, but children don’t. They still need the good old experiences that kids have always relished. They need to run and play outside, take risks, and try again when they stumble. And they still need thoughtful, available parents.

Want to raise a confident, competent child? The kind of kid who loves to learn and play? Who actively participates in the world around her? Who thinks independently while still considering others points of view? In 25 years of working with young children and their families, I’ve found these 10 tips most helpful for raising can-do kids.

#1 Provide concrete experiences. Children are sensory-motor learners. Sensory-motor means that sensations come in, and motor (movement) responses go out. Thus, playing with an orange engages most senses and encourages the child to try different motor responses. She can squeeze and sniff it, roll it across the floor or around in a pie pan, play catch with you, and maybe peel, section, and savor it. Many physical, hands-on activities like these nourish the brain.

You can enrich your child s play by providing meaningful sensory-motor experiences. For example, furnish footwear to play “Shoe Store.” Your child can: Sort shoes by shape, size, texture, and how they fasten(laces/Velcro/buckle). Sequence them (sneaker, pump, boot; sneaker, pump, boot). Seriate them according to size. Try them all on. Box and stack them. Be the “customer” and “salesperson.”

Hide the videos. Ban TV. Jane Healy, PhD, of Colorado, an educational psychologist and expert on brain development, advises that children sit before an electronic screen no longer than 30 minutes a day. Video time deprives children of the sensory-motor experiences that build healthy brains and bodies. A Chinese adage says: “I hear, and I forget. I see, and I remember. I do, and I understand.”

#2 Get physical with your child. “Everyone needs 12 hugs a day for optimum emotional health,” claims a wise colleague. Hugs are therapeutic – not only emotionally, but also physically. Research shows that at-risk infants who are cuddled are more likely to thrive than babies who are not. While you’re at it, roughhouse with your child – especially your girl! Baby girls arrive with the same physical requirements as boys. Every child needs to move through space.

So, get on all fours and play Horsey. Play Up and Over: hold her hands, let her scale your legs, and flip her over and down. Play Helicopter: hold her at the waist or underarms and swing her through the air.

Learning and active movement go together. For instance, the first time your child plays Horsey, she may feel unsteady. She must judge how to stay balanced, how hard to clench her knees, and how not to choke you! Subsequently, she’ll be more confident and relaxed because she has integrated countless body-brain connections. Someday, she ll generalize these lessons about balance and body position when she mounts a real pony or bicycle.

#3 Get his muscles moving. Fine, or small, muscles, which mature gradually, control the hands, fingers, toes, lips, tongue, and eyes. To encourage small muscle development, first you need to get your child’s big muscles working.

“Every child must organize large muscles before concentrating on complex small motor skills,” says Patricia Lemer, Executive Director of Developmental Delay Resources, a nonprofit organization dedicated to healthy alternatives for children with special needs. “Before sitting and writing, children require many opportunities to climb on ladders, toss balls, and paint broad strokes while standing at an easel.”

For little kids, think big: large Legos, foot-long trucks, life-size baby dolls, thick paintbrushes, chubby chalk and crayons. After preschoolers practice manipulating big toys and tools, they can graduate to smaller ones, such as Matchbox cars and watercolor brushes.

Get your child’s eyes roving. Play flashlight games, such as chasing each other’s beamed zigzags on darkened walls. Lob beach balls back and forth. Play tetherball and pingpong. Lie outside on summer nights and watch fireflies. Point out things in the distance. These visual exercises help young eyes track moving objects, change focus from far to near, and function as a team.

Get your child’s tongue wagging. Play mouth games with your baby: mimic the ways you curl, shake, and poke your tongue. Stretch your lips in great Os and wide grins. These games strengthen speaking skills.

#4 Encourage critical thinking. Wonder and hypothesize together. Why do melons float and potatoes sink? What may happen if we run out of gas? What snack will Grandma serve? Asking, “What do you think?” may elicit profound insights. Kids give thoughtful answers when we ask thoughtful questions.

Suppose your child is curious about a cartoon his schoolmates discuss. You’d prefer to read stories, but he wants to watch TV. Relent; in the long run, watching a short, mindless show is less damaging than feeling left out by classmates. Seize this opportunity to guide him into thinking critically. Critical thinkers are not complainers, but people who evaluate situations with discrimination and care.

Watch the show together. Later, ask questions: Would the hero make a nice friend? How does he treat less powerful characters? Does he have a plan, or just let stuff happen to him? When things go wrong, does he use his words to solve the problem? What helps him succeed – fancy equipment or his own wits?

Do not accept “Dunno.” Get an opinion!

#5 Let your child speak for herself. You and your daughter go to the ice cream parlor. The familiar clerk says, “Hi!” Your daughter freezes. Before you jump in with, “Say ‘hi’ to Mike,” give her time to respond. A child capable of speaking may simply need a few extra beats.

And suppose Mike inquires what flavor she wants today, and she just stands there. Don’t give the answer yourself; you may not know your child’s preference. You weren’t asked the question, anyway. Producing “language on demand” is a prerequisite for school success. A child must learn to respond to direct questions and to ask for what she wants. If you do the talking, the danger for your child is “earned helplessness.” Why should she make an effort, if you always take over? Model friendly conversation to encourage her to be responsive and considerate.

#6 Encourage good reading habits. A cartoon shows a boy holding a book. He regards his father, who is simultaneously using a laptop and watching television. The child says, “Daddy, can you read?” Take time to read. When you show an interest in books, you teach your child that reading is a lifetime pleasure. Let him catch you at it. Talk about what you are learning from the book.

A preschooler doesn’t need details about front-page news or the plots of best-sellers, but he can benefit from understanding that all kinds of challenges beset all kinds of folks. Children learn empathy from their parents. Discuss how problems may be overcome when people care about one another and work together.

#7 Champion chores. Children love and need heavy work. It activates the large muscles in the arms, legs, and torso; puts the brain in gear; and prepares them to pay attention to the surrounding world. The easier we make life for our kids, the harder their lives will be. Without sufficient motor activities, they may have low stamina, poor muscle tone, and scant experience in accomplishing simple tasks. Insufficient movement can also lead to poor sleep patterns and appetites.

Having your child help with chores is a great first step. He can rake leaves, shovel snow, dig in the garden, brush the dog, wash the car, push the stroller and vacuum cleaner, carry laundry upstairs, and haul nonbreakables (rice, plastic soda bottles, and cans) from grocery store to car and from car to kitchen.

Not enough heavy loads? Make some! Recycle those plastic bottles as Bottle Babies: fill them halfway with water, tinted with food coloring or tempura paint; tighten their caps; and hand them over. Outdoors, your child will lug them around, roll and kick them, hide them under the bushes, bury them in the sandbox, wrap them in blankets and pretend they are babies, and consider them a perfect toy.

#8 Make mealtime memorable. Sit down and share a daily meal. Dinner is best; breakfast will do. With you as a model for mealtime decorum, your child can learn self-help skills such as cutting and pouring, as well as more complex life skills such as patience, sharing, and participating in the give and take of conversation. Should conversation get stuck, ask each family member to relate one incident of the day. Or say, “Tell us something funny (confusing, scary, incredible) that happened today.” Make sure that everyone has a turn to listen and comment.

Food, like movement, is essential nutrition for growing bodies. Around the table, your child can also be nourished emotionally, so she feels a sense of belonging and learns to be mindful of the needs of others; socially, so she learns to function in a group; and cognitively, so she learns to meet challenges and plan solutions.

#9 Honor your child’s interests. Say your daughter is fond of earthworms. She rescues and carries them home in paper cups. And let’s say you hate worms. Before you say, “Yuck,” look at her face. Is she emotionally invested in these creatures? Curious and compassionate? Eager to share her thoughts with you?

This is bad? No, this is wonderful!

#10 Make fun a priority. Play helps children learn. It stretches the imagination, encourages thinking skills, strengthens motor coordination, and enhances social development. Our daily charge should be, “Have fun!” – not “Be good!” Fun, like manners, empathy, and the desire to read, begins at home. If you know and show how to have fun, chances are your child will, too. So…

  • Dress up for Hallowe’en.
  • Play make-believe games, like “I’m the kid and you’re the Mommy.”
  • Celebrate Backwards Day; eat dessert first.
  • Switch the initial sounds of words to create Spoonerisms, such as “Please heed the famster,” or, “Remember to toss your fleeth,” or “All ready for proccer sactice?” Because they are old enough to get it, preschoolers are tickled by such… nensonse.
  • Have Silly Contests. Who can crunch carrots the loudest? Blow the biggest bubbles? Invent a word to rhyme with “raccoon”? Stare into another’s eyes without laughing?
  • Make music together. Music restores order, improves communication, and is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Homemade rhythm instruments include spoons, pots and pans, oatmeal-box drums, pencil mallets, and cigar-box guitars (sturdy boxes encircled with rubber bands). Inexpensive kazoos and slide whistles can add hilarious melody. Beat a simple rhythm and invite your child to join in. Take turns following each other’s beat. Change from simple to complex, from slow to fast, from loud to soft. Making music is especially fun when you and your child actively make it happen.

Some of the most important skills your child needs at school come from lessons that begin at home. Try these 10 Can-Do Tips, and you will help get your child on the path to success.

 

(2002) Review of The Out of Sync Child Has Fun by Maureen Bennie

Review by Maureen Bennie

Director, Autism Awareness Centre Inc.
www.autismawarenesscentre.com

Review of The Out of Sync Child Has Fun

Carol Kranowitz, a former preschool teacher, made us aware of sensory integration dysfunction in children in her first book The Out Of Sync Child. After the success of that book, she then came up with hands-on ideas to help with sensory integration dysfunction. The result is The Out of Sync Child Has Fun, packed with interactive games and activities to help integrate the sensory system for children ages 3 to 12.

If you haven’t read the first book or need a reminder of what sensory dysfunction is, Ms. Kranowitz devotes the first chapter to what it is, the types of dysfunction, and what SAFE activities are. SAFE stands for S= sensory motor, A= appropriate, F= fun and E= easy. All of the activities in the book follow the SAFE principle. There are no expensive materials to buy and the materials are easy to make, some requiring basic sewing, cooking or carpentry skills.

Each activity includes the following information: developmental age which is not the same as chronological age, a list of materials needed, what to prepare, what you can do as an adult in the activity, what the child can do (these are suggestions only), how to vary the activity, the benefits of SAFE activities, coping skills if the child is having difficulty and needs your help, and sometimes there are tips from mothers and what they have tried.

Ms. Kranowitz also outlines the do’s and don’ts of the program to ensure success. Her suggestions such as incorporating the child’s interests, do activities outdoors whenever possible, begin where the child is developmentally, and letting the child “do” are all common sense ideas, but it is surprising how often we stray from these basics for success. Another group of easy tips are called the Seven Drops, again common sense but good reminders. For example, drop your voice even when the child is loud, drop your body and get down on the physical level of the child, and drop the batteries – put away those electronic toys and gadgets and let children use their bodies.

The SAFE activities are organized into two groups: sensory systems which encompass touch, balance and movement, body position, seeing, hearing and smelling/tasting and sensory related skills comprised of oral motor, motor planning, fine motor skills, and bilateral coordination.

Because this book is well laid out and easy to follow, anyone can use this resource effectively such as educators, occupational therapists, educational assistants, speech pathologists, therapists, and parents. One great idea is to leave a copy of this book inside a teacher’s desk for a substitute teacher because there are so many mini lesson plans within the book. The SAFE activities are also fully inclusive and can be enjoyed by all children. There is an excellent cross-reference chart in the appendix which lists each activity, what sensory systems are involved, and what age they are suitable for. The glossary of terms, recommended materials, suggested books, and websites are helpful too.

The Out of Sync Child Has Fun is a timeless classic that will provide years of activities as the child grows. Because of the flexibility of these simple activities, one can increase the level of difficulty as the child develops. No resource library is complete without this affordable and user friendly book.±

(2001) Taking Care of Yourself When Your Child Has Special Needs

Unpublished – Written for the now-defunct clubmom.com, August 2001

Before takeoff, you buckle your seatbelt and listen to the flight attendant review emergency procedures. You hear that if the oxygen masks drop, you should adjust your own before assisting your child. Likewise, if you are on a lifelong journey as a special mom, you must care for yourself so you can effectively care for your child.

Self-care, however, requires TLC (Time, Liberty, Cash), resources often in short supply. Kathy Vestermark, mother of four, cherishes time for herself. “I gain stamina to advocate effectively for my child with multiple disabilities when I take time to do those things that ensure my self-preservation. Easier said than done!” Kathy adds, “My husband often reminds me to do something for myself. It’s hard not to give endlessly to others – especially to my son. I worry that if I relax my efforts, so will he.”

Psychologist Griffin Doyle, PhD, comments, “Parenting a unique child is a most difficult adjustment.” Coloring the parents struggle often is their guilt about not possessing sufficient emotional resources to match their internal image of an ideal, all-courageous parent. “Parents who respect, admit, and work through their guilt or other agonizing feelings truly are caring for themselves,” he adds.

Also, self-care can be a priceless model of self-esteem for the child to emulate. Balancing your needs with your child’s is the ticket. Here are suggestions from moms who achieve this balance:

1) Exercise daily. Donna Keating, whose five-year-old daughter has sensory processing disorder, says, “Usually, moms assume the task physically and emotionally of the child. It zaps every part of you. Exercise is so essential to relieve everyday stresses. I stick to my work-out schedule and rarely feel guilty about taking time out for myself.”

2) Volunteer for groups that are needier than you. Sorting clothes at Goodwill or serving soup at a shelter, you may feel less self-pitiful.

3) Take classes. Nanette Bevan, mother of three boys, one with Down syndrome and one with spinal muscular atrophy, says, “Pay for a course and go.” Nanette crafts glass and silver jewelry. Learning new techniques or working in the studio, she is in the flow. She stops worrying about her sons’ problems and returns home refueled.

4) Listen to soothing music. The Mozart Effect recordings and Nourishing the Caregiver (available through www.SensoryWorld.com) are produced specifically to relieve stress and restore order. A loftier idea is to get the piano tuned and make music.

5) Talk to someone, besides your husband. If you talk only to him, Nanette advises, you ll probably keep bonking up against each other over the same issues. A sympathetic friend or relative can be a lifeline, especially if the person shares your sense of humor. Consulting a psychotherapist is also extremely worthwhile. Donna comments, “When your child has special needs, you spend every waking moment thinking and planning to stay ahead. Moms require quantities of support that a spouse, relative, or friend can’t easily provide. On days when the light at the end of the tunnel seems nowhere in sight, I find some relief networking with moms with similar children.”

To find a support group, visit websites related to your child’s disability. Many have message boards for sharing concerns, information, and even belly laughs.

6) Seek respite care for an afternoon, evening or weekend, at home or a licensed facility.Finding respite care is challenging. It can be cost prohibitive, and providers may be scarce. Perhaps your local government can guide you to grants to help you meet the costs. Groups that provide respite care, sometimes free, include:

• Local chapters of national organizations that offer Parents Night Out, such as Easter Seals (www.easter-seals.com)
• ARCH National Respite Network (919-490-5577 or www.archrespite.org/respitelocator)
• Campus Ministries or public service groups at colleges, where students may gladly volunteer to baby sit for kids as special as yours
• Hospitals and Red Cross chapters that train providers of children with special needs

7) Nurture good babysitters. Amy Cunningham, whose son’s visual dysfunction lowers his tolerance for new people and situations, advises, “Once you find good babysitters, woo them. Treat them like honored family members – and pay them well. Do whatever it takes to ensure their return.”

8) Barter time with similar parents of similar children. If you are single, maybe you can watch your child and other kids simultaneously. A babysitting co-op may also work well. To locate one, consult neighbors, community newspapers and bulletin boards.

9) Think positively. Amy says, “I take better care of myself, my son, and everyone else I love when I not only accept what is, but also acknowledge the secret, sweet, up side that makes my life seem divinely designed.”

When you find the time to care for yourself, you will see your family’s spirits soar. Buckle up, and let’s go!