Published March 31 in The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
During Carol Kranowitz’s 25 years as a preschool teacher, she realized there were certain children in her classes that seemed “out-of-sync.”
“They refused to participate in art projects or music projects,” she said, explaining that these kids often didn’t like touching gooey or sticky things like paint. “I really wanted every child to have fun at school.”
Kranowitz began looking into reasons why these children experienced things differently than others. That’s when she discovered SPD — a disorder where the nervous system receives sensory signals but does not organize them into appropriate responses, often resulting in motor and behavioral problems.
Published June 8 on Parents.com
Kids who are “out-of-sync” with the world due to Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) struggle with a variety of sensory and motor challenges, but we can help them through simple routines and consistent activities. I’ve learned this from everyday experiences with my own autistic son (SPD and autism often go hand-in-hand), as well as through conversations with educator and writer Carol Kranowitz, who has helped parents and professionals better understand SPD for years with her popular books about the disorder, including The Out-of-Sync-Child.
Published May 31, on Boston Parents’ Paper
At recess, Emma, 9, refuses to participate in jump-rope or four-square games. Emma is over-responsive to movement sensations, which terrify her. She tells her friends, “I’m no good at that.”
At the front door, Aiden, 10, waits for his mother to tie his shoelaces. He has dyspraxia, and sequencing the actions to dress himself is still hard. “Today, you try it!” she says hopefully. He scowls and growls, “No, not today.”
Published May 24, on Mother.ly
Envision two unique babies. Benjy has been on the go since Day 1. Constantly active, frequently fretful, easily startled, and a fitful sleeper, he sure keeps his parents on their toes. Speaking of toes, he skipped crawling and walked on tiptoes at nine months! Mom and Dad are exhausted—but that’s just how it is with an infant, they guess.
Valerie’s parents appreciate her peaceful nature. She goes to anyone, naps often, sleeps all night, and is content being moved from car to grocery cart to stroller to house, strapped in her baby seat. Her parents notice that she’s uninterested in watching it snow or grasping a rattle, but she does seem entranced with the laptop’s screensaver beside her on the kitchen counter.
Two very different tots—one underlying disorder.
Co-authored with Joye Newman in “Exchange: The Early Childhood Leaders’ Magazine Since 1978,” Vol. 34, Issue 1, No. 203, January/February
Summary of Article’s First 150 Words
It’s 50 degrees and raining outside. The playground is all mud and puddles. The morning has just begun, and the preschoolers are full of energy. You, like most early childhood educators, want to give your young students a leg up and a head start in reading and other academic endeavors. So, how do you use this time? Do you:
- Set up your four-year-olds at the computers to play the latest ‘educational’ video games?
- Conduct a longer-than-usual Circle Time?
- Bring out the flashcards and try to entice the kids to call out quick answers?
- Take your children outside to splash in the puddles?
Would it surprise you to learn that the last option will have the most profound impact on your children’s physical, emotional, academic, and overall success? How can that be?
In options 1, 2, and 3, the children are involved in sedentary activities. Only in the final option are they using their whole bodies …
Published in Child Care Information Exchange magazine (May 2000), and in Curriculum: Art, Music, Movement, Drama – A Beginnings Workshop Book (Exchange Press, 2006)
Typically-developing children are usually adaptable. They sing and dance, play rhythm instruments, and willingly try traditional preschool experiences. Children with special needs, however, may prefer sticking to the same-old-same-old activities that make them feel successful.
Whatever the skill level of your preschoolers, a variety of sensory-motor activities in your curriculum can satisfy most children’s needs. Music and movement activities, with their flexible structure, can foster every child’s creativity and competence.
These stories illustrate how children of differing abilities play together at St. Columba’s Nursery School in Washington, DC.
1) Music and movement allow children to use their imaginations.
Quint has spinal muscular atrophy. He has little use of his lower body. As a result of extensive and intensive therapy, however, Quint’s upper body is strong. Using a wheelchair, he maneuvers expertly outdoors and inside.
He excels at singing and rhyming, at parachute games and rhythm band activities. He welcomes enacting playlets, such as “The Gingerbread Man.” When the farmers and animals run, run, as fast as they can in pursuit of the Gingerbread Man, Quint joins the chase in his wheelchair. “Watch!” he says. “I can do it myself!”
Quint is decidedly less enthusiastic about up-and-down activity songs, such as “The Noble Duke of York.” He mutters, “I hate that song,” and who could blame him?
Still, the musical activities he shuns are often the ones other children love. While inclusion is the name of the game, and sensitivity to Quint’s feelings is crucial, the other children have needs, too. Balancing the needs of all the children is all-important.
Quint’s classmates are a varied bunch. Several children have marvelous motor skills, while others are at various points along the developmental bell curve.
One day the program includes a game designed to strengthen the sensory-motor skills of body awareness, motor coordination, flexion and extension, listening, and beat awareness. We sit in a circle, legs in front.
The singer on the phonograph record instructs us to raise and lower our feet and wave them in big arcs. Most of us do our best, while Quint slumps and scowls.
Next, the singer tells us to move our arms, shoulders, and head – up, down, and all around. Quint can do this. He sits up tall and easily complies with each of these demands.
Then he says, “I have a good idea. Let’s lie on our tummies.”
Hey! Cool! We have played this game before, but never on our stomachs. Quint’s compensatory strategy sounds like fun.
We roll onto our stomachs and repeat the activity. Quint cannot raise his toes but can lift his arms, shoulders and head. His agility impresses the other children. “How do you get your arms so high?” one asks.
Pleased, Quint says, “Oh, I’m just really good at that.”
Then Giorgio asks, “Can we do it on our backs?”
Following Giorgio’s suggestion, we flip over and repeat the game, lifting our body parts into the air. We discover that when our bodies rest on the floor, resisting gravity is easier.
Then Emma wants to try the game lying on our sides. Ooh, that is hard! Charlotte suggests trying it face-to-face with a partner. That’s funny!
Instead of a five-minute warm-up activity, this game absorbs the entire half hour. The children’s creative collaboration, regardless of their differing needs, is too purposeful and fun to stop.
2) Music and movement awaken children’s brains.
Zack, lost in his own world, exhibits symptoms of autism. His play comprises lining up cars and banging together two plastic blocks. His language skills are severely delayed. When he is spoken to, his limited responses are more gestural than verbal.
He seems to enjoy coming to music with his class, but we aren’t sure. Sometimes he joins in the movement activities; other times he tunes out.
His classroom teacher remarks, “If only we could learn how to give Zack a jump start!”
One day, I’m rounding up Zack’s classmates to come to the music room. The other children are congregating in the corridor. Zack is still in his coat, gazing dreamily at his coat hook, stuck.
I ask, “Are you ready for music, Zack?”
He nods. Otherwise, he doesn’t move.
I try a different tactic. I pick him up, give him a bear hug and rock him side to side. To the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” I repeat: “Are you – ready for – music – Zack?”
Suddenly, Zack comes alive. His eyes light up. He laughs. He returns my hug and leans into the rocking motion. After I set him down, he whips off his coat, hangs it neatly on his hook, and leaps into line. “I’m ready!”
What’s happening? Is the combination of singing, deep pressure, and rocking the technique to arouse Zack?
Walking behind him and pressing firmly on his shoulders, I start the song again, making up rhymes that are inexpert, but good enough:
Are you – ready for – music – today?
Let’s get – moving – here’s the – way.
Now we’re – walking – down the – hall,
Here we – go – one and – all,
Are you – ready for – music – now?
Let’s go – in and – take a – bow.
Zack loves it and participates in the music class as never before.
Now, to get Zack’s attention, we sing while hugging and rocking him. The words needn’t make sense, rhyme, or even be there. Humming does the trick, too. The tools that rev him up are melody, deep pressure, and rhythmic motion. This approach helps him get in sync.
3) Music and movement allow children to be in control.
“No, I won’t. You can’t make me. I’m the boss of my body,” is Fiona’s mantra.
Her diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is not surprising. We know that she struggles to be in control because she feels powerless. To help her learn to be the legitimate boss of her own body, we require more than a label. What can we offer this contrary, needy child?
Resistive experiences! Resistive experiences benefit everyone. Pressing different body parts against the wall, carrying heavy buckets of sand, kneading mudpies, digging, shoveling, sweeping, and raking are examples of resistive activities. Hard work is fun! And for children who resist everything, resistive experiences can be a potent prescription.
In the music room, a game planned with Fiona in mind employs resistive, stretchy latex bands, often used for exercise or physical rehabilitation. The children sit on the rug surrounding three piles of bands. Red bands are for kids who feel a little sleepy. Green bands are for kids who feel strong. Blue ones are for kids who feel r-e-a-l-l-y strong. The children consider this information, choose a band, test it, change their mind, select another, and prepare to play.
Fiona, of course, refuses. Children like her cannot be jollied along. The reason is not that they won t participate, but that they can t. That s all right; we are not in a rush here. “I’ll leave the extra bands on the rug,” I say. “When you re ready, you can choose one.”
The game is a follow-the-leader activity. While a lively instrumental rendition of “Yankee Doodle” plays, the first leader steps onto her band, holding the ends in her hands, bending and straightening her knees. The other children follow her example for 16 strong beats.
The second leader centers the band behind her back and pumps her hands forward and back. The others follow. One by one, we go around the circle, and everyone has a turn.
Meanwhile, Fiona sits against the wall, watching attentively. She sees the fun everyone is having even the teachers. She hears the participants clamor, “Let’s do it again!”
Suddenly, Fiona jumps up. “I’ll do it,” she growls, “but I won’t follow any leader!” She snatches a blue band (the most resistive) from the pile.
The music starts again.
Fiona ignores the leaders and invents her own movements. Who could object? At the moment, she is not interfering with anyone, is having a good time, and is gaining physical and motor control of her own body.
4) Music and movement strengthen children’s problem-solving and motor-planning skills.
Shep has dyspraxia, which means he has difficulty planning his motions and organizing his body to go through a sequence of unfamiliar movements. Some symptoms of his disorder are poor motor coordination, social immaturity, and emotional insecurity.
The musical game today is tapping rhythm sticks. I splay the sticks out on the rug. “Take one smooth stick and one bumpy stick,” I say.
As the other children reach for sticks, Shep hangs back. He wants to participate but doesn’t know how to begin.
I hand him a pair, saying, “Here are your sticks. Feel how this one is bumpy; this one is smooth. Now, come be my helper.” I open my arms and indicate that he can sit on the floor in front of me.
Shep whispers, “I don’t know what to do.” I whisper back, “We’ll help each other.” I adjust the sticks in his hands and place my hands over them. Working as one, we tap his sticks together, on the floor, on his knees, in the air. I guide his motions as the game continues, actually putting the sensation of motion into his muscles. Gradually, I let go. By the end of the game, Shep has scooted back to the circle. He is doing a fairly good job of watching his friends to figure out what to do.
When music time is over, and we have sung the “Good-bye Song,” and the children are lining up to return to their classroom, Shep turns back and grins. “That was fun,” he says. “That was easy!”
Zack, Quint, Fiona and Shep could very well be placed in classes for children with special needs. However, both they and their typical peers benefit from their inclusion in a mainstream preschool. Here, the emphasis is not on speaking in complete sentences, doing only what the teacher says, or doing things the “right” way. Instead, children are given opportunities to heighten their arousal level, use their imaginations, and develop motor-planning and problem-solving skills.
Thank you, music and movement!
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.
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
Up, upon, down, into, onto, between, beneath, beside, under, over, through, across, around
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.
- 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.:
- 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
- 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).
- Growing an In-Sync Child: Simple, Fun Activities to Help Every Child Develop, Learn and Grow
- In-Sync Activity Card Book: Simple, Fun Activities to Help Children Develop, Learn and Grow
- The Goodenoughs Get in Sync: 5 Family Members Overcome Their Special Sensory Issues
- The Out-of-Sync Child Grows Up: Coping with SPD in the Adolescent and Young Adult Years
- The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun: Activities for Kids with SPD
- The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder
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