Sensory Processing 101
with Carol Stock Kranowitz
Sensory processing is how we react to the world through our eight senses (yes, 8!). If you have a child with ADHD and/or autism, your child has some sensory challenges. I am thrilled to have the author of THE sensory guidebook, “The Out-of-Sync Child,” Carol Stock Kranowitz shares a primer on sensory processing and how it affects our kids’ behavior. In this episode of the Parenting ADHD Podcast, you’ll learn about all eight senses, what it looks like when a child seeks or avoids in each sensory area, and some activities to strengthen their sensory experience in this world.
Resources in this Episode
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Carol Stock Kranowitz, a former teacher, introduced Sensory Processing Disorder to parents and educators around the world through her groundbreaking book, “The Out-of-Sync Child,” the first publication in her “Sync” series. She speaks internationally about SPD’s effect on children’s learning and behavior and how families, teachers, and professionals can support children as they grow — at home, at school, and out and about. (Visit www.out-of-sync-child.com) With Joye Newman, she shows parents and teachers how to incorporate “In-Sync” activities into the home and classroom. (Visit www.insyncchild.com)
A graduate of Barnard College, Carol has a master’s degree in Education and Human Development from George Washington University. She lives in Bethesda, is a classical cellist, and dotes on five grandchildren.
Thanks for joining me!
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Carol Stock Kranowitz (00:03): Everything, everything we do. The first response to everything we do is sensory and our brains takes on this information and says, have you seen this before? Or is this new? Is this possibly dangerous? Or is this benign
Intro (00:22): Welcome to the parenting ADHD podcast where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author, ADHD, alcoholic, and mindset. Mama honored to guide you on the journey of raising your atypical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to the parenting ADHD podcast. I am super excited to have Carol
Penny Williams (00:58): Here and the author of the out of sync child, the sort of guru of all things, sensory, and this is going to be such a fantastic conversation. And so insightful for parents listening because sensory plays a big role in our kids' behaviors in the way that they manage and regulate themselves, all of these sorts of things. So very, very critical information for everyone to have. Thank you so much for sharing some of your time with us, Carol, will you start just by introducing yourself and let everybody know who you are and what you do for anybody who doesn't already know?
Carol Stock Kranowitz (01:37): Yes. Thank you, Penny, for having me. I'm Carol Stock Kretowitz I was a preschool teacher in an independent school in Washington, DC that attracted all children of all abilities. And I found that the ones that attracted me the most were the kids I considered to be out of sync. They would tip toe when, when their classmates heard the marching music, they would go in the opposite direction on the obstacle course, they would clap their hands over their ears. When I strum the guitar and they're, they, these were lovely lovable children, but something was getting in their way. So they were not enjoying the occupation of childhood, which is having fun. So I got interested in in trying to figure out these kids got some lessons from a pediatric occupational therapist and found there was nothing to read for people like me and people like our listeners. So I wrote, I wrote the out of St. Child in 1998 and it's it has helped a lot of people understand the basics and became a much better teacher when I understood that children, when they don't behave the way we expect them to. It's not because they won't it's because they can't.
Penny Williams (03:12): Exactly. Yeah. And you have some follow-up books as well,
Carol Stock Kranowitz (03:16): Right? Yes, I do. After the out of sync child, I wrote the out of sync child has fun with activities to guide children with shaky, shaky, vestibular sense, which is knowing where you are in space and feeling comfortable moving or children who didn't want to get their hands messy. So I, I have lots and lots of activities to help kids with sensory issues. And then the out of St child grows up, came out a few years ago, and then there are in-sync child books as well. The Insync growing and in-sync child is activities to help every kid have fun, get away from their two dimensional devices and out into the world where they can handle objects and interact with their environment. So I'm, I'm, I have two hats. One is guiding families and teachers of children with sensory issues, helping them see these kids in a new light, and then also encouraging all parents of all children to get outdoors and get playing with simple, fun and functional activities.
Penny Williams (04:33): So important. So very important because we don't have as much of that type of play anymore. It's not all we do now. Like it was when we were kids and we weren't, either we watch TV or we played that was it. So we had a lot of time to play and it's so different now. And, and we learn and grow so much through that play. That's why it's so important.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (04:58): Absolutely.
Penny Williams (05:00): Let's start by defining what we mean by sensory processing. What does that entail? And then I think we'll move into kind of behaviors that we see that may signal some sensory processing issues.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (05:15): Excellent. sensory processing is what everybody does all the time constantly. Right now we are taking in gazillions of sensations through our eight sensory systems. So I'm certain everyone is using their auditory system to hear what I'm saying. You're using yours, your tactile sense, because you're touching something. Even if your hands aren't touching something, some of your skin is touching something, clothing or a chair or the floor. So we take in sensations, these come in receptors all through our body zoom into our central nervous system and into our brain. And the brain says, oh, you just stepped on a Thumbtack. Here's what you do about it. Take your foot away. Or, oh, you just put some delicious ice cream on your tongue, enjoy that and let it go down the hatch. So everything, everything we do, the first response to everything we do is sensory.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (06:33): And our brains takes in this information and says, have you seen this before? Or is this new? Is this possibly dangerous? Or is this benign? Should you move quickly? Or should you slow down jump or climb or clap or laugh? So the, the sensations come in the brain reacts to the sensations and our response is what we do. So it we swallow that delicious ice cream. We pull our foot away from the Thumbtack on the floor. Our census first job is to help us survive. The, the main purpose of our life is to survive long enough to have another generation produce another generation. So before I get to kids who have sensory challenges, I just want to quickly tell everyone what the eight senses are because a common knowledge is that we have five seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. We have three more.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (07:43): One of them is the vestibular sense, which I briefly mentioned. This is the sense we, we get information in our inner ear and it's the sense of where we are in space, where our head is in relation to the surface of the earth and how we are moving through space. So when we sit up in bed in the morning, we're engaging our vestibular system. When we walk to the kitchen, when we walk up and down the stairs, when we get on a rollercoaster when we get on an airplane, every time we're moving we are using our vestibular sense. It's the master sense, actually, because if research has shown, if we don't know where we are in relation to the surface of the earth, we are really scared. Imagine if you did not have a firm understanding of your relationship to the earth, wouldn't you be shook up yes.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (08:46): Concerning, right. Okay. So that, that's one of the three less understood sensory systems. Another one is the proprioceptive sense and proprioception is information that we get into our muscles and joints and ligaments. So every time we, we stretch or flex our muscles, we are getting proprioception. And we like that our body wants to stretch and flex. We know how far to stretch, to reach for the toothbrush. We know how much to put into brushing our teeth. So we don't wear down the toothbrush bristles in a week from over vigorous brushing. We know how to pull on a, a boot that's a little stuck or open the sticky dresser drawer, or we know how to climb, how to adjust our legs, going up and down stairs or rock climb. We can figure out how, how much it's called grading of movement. We know how far to grade our muscles to do the tasks that are around us all the time.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (10:06): Right? Then there's the interoceptive sense. And this is the sense of our internal organs. Are we hungry, thirsty, hot. Do we have to use the toilet? Do we feel nauseous? That has to do with temperature. There's also some parts of touching that are involved with the intraceptive sense, like how a canker sore feels in your mouth. That would be the intraceptive sense, telling you about that touch sensation. The other touch sense, the tactile sense tells you more about social touch. How hard is that person hugging you, or how close is that person on the subway who was sitting next to you? Or is there a mosquito on your cheek? So that's kind of a external touch. So all of these eight senses have to take in information all day long. And our brain tells us how we use the information from all those senses of good deal of the day.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (11:17): You think about anything you do. And you're probably using five senses. We use smelling and tasting when we're eating for instance. And so we don't use those all the time, but the others are constantly constantly with us. And if one sensory system is not working well, it will affect how the others do. All right, let me, let me segue now to talk about kids whose sensory systems are not quite in sync. The, the most common sensory challenges are tactal sensations. So you will see this in small babies, teenagers, adults, you'll see people who are extremely particular about their clothing, very fussy dressers. They they may want to be covered even with hats and mittens on a warm day, or they may want to be uncovered even on a cold day. They may be very fussy and not want anything, but the lure or velvet clothes, they might insist on the finest sheets.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (12:33): I've heard of children who refuse to get into the bed. If the sheets are polyester, it has to be the finest Pima, cotton sheets, or they just can't sleep. Kids and adults with tactical issues may be very particular about what they eat, putting crunchy peanut butter or grains of rice into their mouth is something they just would not consider. Right? So, so you will have, there are variations here in, in the choices that people with tactile issues have with their foods. Some only want very smooth creamy foods like pureed, apple sauce, and Jell-O is okay, but not popcorn, not grainy bread or granola. And then there are others who are very particular and can't stand anything creamy. All they want is crunchy. So they're the people who like Popeye's chicken and curios and granola and things where they can really feel it in their mouth.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (13:40): Tactile issues run into problems with socialization, because if you're uncomfortable with unexpected light touch, like somebody just brushing against you as they pass you by then you're, you're going to be jumpy. And you're not going to want to have contact with other people. It's too alarming all the time. So people with tactical issues will prefer their own quiet space that the Carol in the college library the edge of the couch, whereas there's no risk of being touched from all sides, maybe just from one side and children will say, no, they don't want to go play at other kids' houses, or they don't want friends to come over because that touching is all around them at is unpredictable. And Penny interrupt me. I, I can get going on this so that I can share another big issue is problems with the vestibular sense.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (14:48): And this is, this is, might be new to some of our, because you know, people know about the touch sense, but they don't know about the vestibular sense so much. All right. So the vestibular sense, remember it, the receptors are in the inner ear. These are kids who will just have a terrible time when mommy tips their head back to rinse the shampoo out because their head is inverted. The child's has inverted, and he has lost his sense of where he is. And for children who have a shaky vestibular sense, they are in constant fear of falling off the face of the earth. This is not a joke. This is a primal fear. So these are children who will be later than others to learn to walk, because it's pretty shaky being on two feet and you fall a lot, and this is not acceptable to the child with the vestibular problems.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (15:45): So these might be late walkers. And then walking over grass or sand or gravel, that's difficult because the ground under the child's feet is not solid. It moves and everything you have to adjust for it. You have to concentrate totally on how to get one, one step in front of the other. Kids with vestibular issues do not like going up and downstairs. They, most of them are over sensitive to vestibular sensation and they hate the stroller, the car, the elevator, the airplane, the all the kiddie rides. However, there are also children on the other side of the curve. And I should have said this for the kids with tactile issues also who crave vestibular sensations or tactile sensations, the sicker, most of them, most of them don't like it. There are many who just love going really fast and getting on the swing and never getting off the swing.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (16:58): And I've heard of many children with vestibular differences who can only sleep if they're moving. So mommy and daddy are up at two in the morning to take the baby in the stroller around the block so that baby can, can calm down. And parents find out what works for their kids. Parents are brilliant at fluffing out what, what is going to help their baby often without knowing why? Yeah, the, the proprioceptive sense is another one of these very, very basic early, early to develop sensory systems by the way, tactile vestibular and proprioceptive sensory systems develop right away, even in utero, they're developing. Whereas vision is a late later developing system. You don't really clarify all your visual experiences until you've had a lot of visual experiences. So of course the baby for nine months, isn't getting the babies in the dark.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (18:05): So it takes a while to catch up. But the baby, the baby in the dark is feeling things and is jostling around and is moving, is he's learning to be upside down and he's stretching his little tiny limbs in utero. So he's getting a good, a good sense of touch. The vestibular sensations and proprioception. All right, proprioception is very, very important in the early child and in all of us. And this is how we use our body. Do we know that we're stretching our flexing? Do we know how much to put into walking? And you'll see, you'll see kids who don't have that sensation down, pat. And they, these are kids who might stump when they walk. And what they're doing is they're trying to get more proprioceptive input through their feet and joints. So they actually know they're connecting to the earth.
Penny Williams (19:03): Yeah. My son would throw himself down on the floor. He would crash into walls. He was a big pro preceptive kid. Not as much now that he's older, but it was when he was younger. It was such an aha for me, for the occupational therapist to tell me about proprioception. I went, oh my gosh, this stuff makes sense now. And yeah, he was just, he was that kid who was constantly banging into things and knowing why made such a huge difference for us and the way we responded, absolutely
Carol Stock Kranowitz (19:38): Kids who crave proprioception will be fierce, huggers. They they'll just latch on to mommy and daddy and Dell or, or a favorite teacher. And they'll just hug and hug and squeeze, or they'll squeeze their classmates there with affection and delight to be seeing their classmates. And of course the other kids are knocked down because they're surprised. And, and the, and, and these, these kids who need a lot more sensory input, proprioception speaking, or vestibular speaking, or tactical speaking these kids who need a lot more are, are totally misunderstood. They are considered the bad boy, or they will hurt other children completely out of enthusiasm. Absolutely no malice at all, but the teacher doesn't understand it. Here comes here, comes Charlie barreling into the classroom, and he's knocking chairs over and he's knocking block towers down and can't wait to his friends. And it's total miss understanding of these, of these little kids.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (20:52): So what I want parents to do when they're looking at behavior that is out of sync, that just makes you think that is bizarre behavior, or that is really inappropriate behavior. Before you jump to say, the kid is loony or beyond rude or needs to be restrained intentional. Yes. Before you start making these assumptions and coming up with attributes, please put on what I call your sensory spectacles. These are imaginary glasses, put them on and ask yourself, is this behavior possibly because my child is trying to get away from a sensation that she cannot tolerate. So, you look at the child whose ears are over. Her hands are over her ears. When the pretty music at church starts, that child is not being rude. That child is saying, this is more auditory input than I can stand going to the mall is a perfect place to watch children with sensory processing challenges, fall to pieces, because there are squirts of perfume around the corner. And there's the cacophony of those big, open, hard surfaces, the marble floors and the glass windows and all of that's reverberating. And so we need to ask ourselves is my child's behavior self-protective so he'll survive this trip to the mall or this birthday party, or this movie in a tight, dark, scary movie theater. Well, I shouldn't use that as an example in the past year and three months, but when he goes to the moon,
Penny Williams (22:49): Getting back there, my son went and go to the movie theater. He avoided it like nothing would get him to the movie theater. Just a couple of years ago, about age 16. He tried it again for the first time, since he was probably seven or eight years old and enjoyed himself, then he, he had a better understanding of himself and what he could do, but that stuff can be frustrating. You know, I want parents to know that that sensory avoidance or even the sensory seeking can be frustrating and overwhelming, but understanding where it's coming from then allows us to be the parent that they need us to be in those different situations.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (23:29): Yes. Yes. I'm glad your son gave it a try. And, and that's important too, for, for parents who are just getting to know about this. Your child might be at a point right now where he, he can't do some things, give a go. And another time I I'm thinking of movies, I'm thinking of foods, maybe he just will refuses to eat a green pea now, but don't think that's forever, in two weeks, bring the Greenpeace Bret back to the table and just have them there on the, on the table. He doesn't have to have one on his plate, but it goes on the table. And then, another few weeks have him put one on his plate and you can, there's a, there's a technique to getting kids to eat a little bit more inch by inch. And you can, you can look into that.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (24:25): There's a wonderful nutritionist named Kelly Dorfman, who as a system to help get the kids eat eating better. But now is not always right. Things change things cycle. So you might have a child, a preschooler who won't go near the finger painting, and then everything eases up and she gets a little more comfortable. And by the age of eight, she's enjoying arts and crafts. And then it can be that she's a teenager. And her neurological system says, well, not so much. I want to back off the tacticals stuff. So you, there, there are cycles. I have you, have you seen cycles like that in your son, Penny?
Penny Williams (25:11): I have. And I've seen too. He is a seeker in some ways and an avoider in other ways. So loud, overwhelming, loud sounds he is an avoider. But he's definitely that proprioceptive vestibular kid who was super, super hyper when he was little and constantly bouncing around. And I'm trying to get that input. You know, a lot of chewing the oral motor was a big thing for him as well. He was chewing on everything constantly. And, sometimes it was about accommodating. So he was chewing on things in school. He was actually in first grade I got called into a meeting and they showed me the end of his pencil, where the metal piece holds the eraser on. He had chewed it so much that it was a razor blade and he had cut the inside of his mouth with that. And so we looked for other things for him to chew.
Penny Williams (26:05): We got a tube that is made for that to go on his pencil and some other things. And, the, the audio stuff, we, we just sort of kept re-introducing it a little bit at a time, but we also accommodated. We provided headphones. We, prepared him for things and stuff like that. So it definitely has improved a lot over the years, but there are some things that still, I think he would hold back some on he's really into music. He likes to create digital music. He wants to go to concerts, but he's also really hesitant because he knows it's going to be really, really loud. And we haven't had the opportunity of course for the last year and a half to do that. But he's interested in trying it now. So it's something that for years and years, he would have dug his heels in and no way would he have agreed to try anything like that. So it definitely gets better. And I think the more that we understand it as parents, we're able then to give those little challenges that inch by inch approach, because we see what the issue is and we can really help them then with moving forward. And, and I think all of us have some sort of reversions sensory wise. And so, we don't want to change everything about them, right. We just want to help them to sort of be comfortable in the world that we live in.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (27:35): That's right. That's right. And you brought up a few points that I'd, that are great. Getting the child ready for something is, is possible. I think it's, it can be physical for instance if a child is, has trouble getting out the door to go to school, get a little trampoline, a little personal household trampoline. If you can, don't have one in your backyard and, and have the child jump on the trampoline or put an old mattress on the floor and just let the child jump on the mattress or let him roll himself up. Or maybe you can roll him up into a sleeping bag, roll them up into his little burrito and then press on the sleeping bag from his shoulders all the way down to his ankles, press, press, press, press, and that kind of physical input. It's very simple, but it's very calming.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (28:28): There's also a lot of rubbing teach the child had a rub himself from his shoulders down to his wrists, and that will desensitize the very sensitive tactal system have him hug himself. And one thing you can do is you can play egg and spaghetti or think up other foods if you don't like the compensation of spaghetti, but you have, you have the kids scrunch into this tiny, tiny little, not garlic, not garlic and spaghetti. And then untangle and stretch as tall as he can be with his hands reaching for the ceiling and his elbow straight and up on his tip toes. And do that a few times. And that is simple. A simple way to get the proprioceptive system engaged and organizing proprialceptive input always helps no matter what the sensory issue is. And this is a magic thing about proprioception gentle pressure on the body is wonderful.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (29:40): Have him press against wall at the nursery school where I taught every time the kids came in off the playground to wash up, wash their hands and get ready for snack, we would have them stand against the wall and say, oh, the walls falling down, hold up the wall. And all these little preschoolers would press with their hands and press with their shoulders and their backsides. And they'd get down on the floor, they'd press with their feet. And this was just an instant way to get proprioceptive input into them. And that's very calming for transitions. Another thing I want to point out is I said, put on your spectacles, look at what's bothering your child and see if you can get away from that loud, noisy place or that smelly place or whatever a second question. And there are only two is what sensations does my child need.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (30:38): And we forget that behavior, that disorganized unhappy behavior is often because the kid's been sitting too long. So all human beings are born to move. We're born to work and gather firewood and, and build Fords across the stream with heavy rocks and pluck feathers. And our bodies are ancient and require all that input that our, that our sensory systems allow us to do. And these days we're just sitting think, think about homework kids do in front of a computer or leisure time in front of the video game. And this is not nature's intention and nature will resist. And nature's resistance looks like bad behavior because kids are just trying to get into their bodies, what they need. So, so I say every 10 minutes, get up, walk around, do a few jumping jacks, go rake a little bit, shovel a little bit, walk the dog empty the dishwasher, do anything physical. And that will be a great improvement.
Penny Williams (31:54): Yeah. One thing I wanted to talk about too sleep as far as sleep and proprioceptive input, this was a really big one for us and my son. We called him the Luc taco. You mentioned the burrito a minute ago, but we called it the Luke taco because we had to pile things up next to him in bed, every pillow, every stuffed animal, every blanket. And we had to squeeze it in as tight as we could in order for him to have any hope of sleeping. And fortunately I learned about weighted blankets shortly, not too long into that journey. And that has made such a difference even today at 18, he uses that way to blink at, for sleep. So that can be a really big issue too, I think for appropriate receptive kids. And I wanted to make sure that we, we called attention to that one as well. There's so much,
Carol Stock Kranowitz (32:44): That's a great one. And I also loved your your tubing that you mentioned that goes on the ends of faxes. You can go to the hardware store and get it's vinyl tubing it's used in aquariums or pacemakers in the refrigerator, and you can get it off the reel at the hardware store. You get a length of it, like a couple of inches or a foot of it. And the child just holds onto this tubing and can knock on it. And it's it's indestructable and it gives the child important, helpful oral satisfaction to chew on something. Think of all the appropriate reception that's happening when you, when you're chewing hard on something. It's it's great. Well, I have lots of ideas to share. I hope that people will go to the library and pick up some of my books of the out of Saint child or the outer St.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (33:37): Child has fun and growing and in-sync child there or go to my website. It's Carol stock, crandon.com and you'll see more. And there's so much more, yeah, there's a lot to learn. And, and the P once you're in this club of the sensory processing challenges club, you'll find so many wonderful families and teachers who know about it, care about it, do something about it, write about it. And we just need to get the pediatricians on board. They're slowly coming on board, but the sensory processing issues are real. There are research studies showing how reactions to sensations show up in the brain. And, there's hard core evidence, which is very new and exciting.
Penny Williams (34:33): Yeah. And interoception, we didn't talk a lot about, but that's a really important piece too. Especially with kids, I think with anxiety, it's, it's easier for kids with anxiety to kind of relate this is happening in my body. So I am feeling anxious and, but there's a lot of things. And, and I wasn't really aware of it when my kids were young and I didn't really work on matching their feelings with how their body is feeling and things like that. And, and it's really, really helpful. So I, that, that people listening well, seek more information on that to Kelly Mahler, I know is a big person in that, in that area. And we've had her on the summits as well. It's really big piece. Yeah. And so you can find the link to Carol's website, books, everything we've talked about, I will have in the show notes for you. And the show notes for this episode are at parentingadhdandautism.com/130 for episode 130. And Carol just want to thank you so much again, it's always so lovely to talk to you. Thank you so much for being here and we will end the episode.
Carol Stock Kranowitz (35:46): Thank you.
Speaker 2 (35:51): Thanks for joining me on the parenting ADHD podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share, and don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and mama retreats at parentingadhdandautism.com.
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