(1998) “Turn on the Lights!” — Review by Chris Hughes Bridgeman, PhD

Review by Chris Hughes Bridgeman, PhD


Published in The Post, the newsletter of PNPIC (Parent Network for the Post-Institutionalized Child), January/February 1998.

We have two children that became part of our family by adoption. Our son was born in Romania and spent several months in an institution with a persistent respiratory infection. We were surprised by some of the issues our son presented. The sound of a lawn mower several blocks away was enough to drive him inside the house. He would “jump out of his skin” when touched lightly. He asked for the labels to be cut out of his shirts. He used a lot of effort holding up his body.

Hmm, were such behaviors irrelevant or significant?

Our children were fortunate to be Carol Kranowitz’s students at St. Columba’s Nursery School in Washington, DC. She and Karen Strimple, the school director, helped us to understand that sensory [processing disorder] might be affecting our son’s behavior. Because of their expertise and sensitivity we were able to get help for our son and ourselves. It has made a huge difference in our lives.

Now, Kranowitz has written a clear, well-organized handbook that demystifies sensory [processing]. Using it, you can strengthen your child’s ability to navigate his or her world. If you have an “out-of-sync” child, you can search all over town for help, or you can sit down with this book and in a few hours emerge as a much better advocate for your child and as a more savvy consumer of professional child development services.

Kranowitz’s book bridges a gap in the existing literature between dense academic writing and simple overviews. It is a great tool that can help you leverage energy, money and time. When I read it, I felt as if the author turned on the lights in a dim room.

Kranowitz defines sensory [processing disorder] as the inability to process information received through the senses. “Dysfunction happens in the central nervous system, at the head of which is the brain. When a glitch occurs, the brain cannot analyze, organize, and connect – or integrate – sensory messages. The result of sensory [processing disorder] is that the child cannot respond to sensory information to behave in a meaningful, consistent way. He may also have difficulty using sensory information to plan and organize what he needs to do.”

Sensory [processing] problems act like a hidden tax on a child’s development. To explain this, Kranowitz provides clear examples of the special “near senses”: tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive. Her checklists and tables make it easy to understand a child’s behavior patterns. She maps out strategies for home, school and typical overload situations. She has created a very helpful appendix with descriptions of the underlying neurological concepts including excellent drawings by illustrator T.J. Wylie. The detailed glossary, alone, is worth the price of the book. Readers will find resource lists of helpful organizations and other reference material as well.

No matter how wonderful pediatricians are, it is unlikely that they are fully knowledgeable about sensory [processing]. If one professional can’t help you, keep looking and give the adults in your child’s life a copy of this book. (Have them read the endorsements of Dr. Brazelton, Dr. Greenspan, Dr. Healy, and Dr. Silver!) You can help educate those adult authority figures who will have subtle and major influences on your child’s self esteem.

One value of this book is the framework for nurturing children that is the subtext of Kranowitz’s writing. It reminds me of the respectful attitude of observation, investigation and theory integration that characterized Dr. Jean Piaget’s work on the cognitive development of young children. Piaget became intrigued by his own children and forever changed the world of education by what he learned. Like Piaget, Kranowitz has taken her daily observations of young children and, fueled by her desire to reach even the most confusing child, created a book of enormous value.

Every parent knows “that look” – the special glow a child gets when fully engaged in the moment. Carol Kranowitz’s book will turn on the lights so more children can shine.