#176 - Everything You Need to Know About Neuroplasticity with Dr Karen Pryor

by Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC October 27, 2021

#176 - Everything You Need to Know About Neuroplasticity with Dr Karen Pryor

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Everything You Need to Know About Neuroplasticity with Dr Karen Pryor

Our brain is an amazing thing and much of how it works is still being discovered. 

Today’s guest teaches us how using neuroplasticity, we can rewire processing for completely separate senses to overcome difficulty in sensory processing. 

Dr. Karen Pryor, author ofTen Fingers Ten Toes Twenty Things Everyone Needs to Know: Neuroplasticity for Children, talks to us about why she wrote this book, and how she uses neuroplasticity to overcome challenges. Karen is both a doctor of physical therapy and naturopathy and has qualifications in hypnotherapy - fields that she has fused to create the dynamic approach to therapy that she shares with us in this episode. 

Join us to learn why it's important to ask parents the right questions, and how to activate kids' spatial awareness. Discover the mechanism underlying neuroplasticity, and why pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth grounds us. Dive into subconscious processing and find out how to phrase instructions that bypass it. From why she hums but never sings, to practical examples of how she would treat specific patients, you don’t want to miss this fascinating episode that gives us a brief glimpse into the techniques and tips used by Dr. Karen Pryor! 

Key Points From This Episode:

  • How studying hypnotherapy helped Karen understand the subconscious.
  • Hacking the nervous system: what neuroplasticity means.
  • Techniques on how you can include neuroplasticity treatment in your sessions.
  • How to ask the right questions for your patients.
  • Why retained reflexes affect a kid’s aptitude in kindergarten.
  • How OTs can use neuroplasticity in their own treatment.
  • Finding yourself and your patient in three-dimensional space. 
  • Why the tongue is so good at organizing the system.
  • Why consistency is key and how to make repetitive tasks feel like fun and not work.
  • What makes Dr. Pryor so passionate about her work.


“I wroteTen Fingers Ten Toes Twenty Things Everyone Needs to Know, because when I had children, I didn't get an instruction book.” —@karenpryor [0:07:07]

“Long-range, this program works. It helps children achieve and they can choose whatever they want to do with their lives.” —@karenpryor [0:08:38]

“My passion and my goal is to teach as many people as possible so that they can enhance and help other children because when you help the child, it frees them from disabilities.” —@karenpryor [0:10:40]

“Whatever fires together, wires together. You've heard that before. Let me assure you, whatever fires apart, wires apart.” —@karenpryor [0:14:52]

Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:

Ten Fingers Ten Toes Twenty Things Everyone Needs to Know: Neuroplasticity for Children

Dr. Karen Pryor

Dr. Karen Pryor Email

Dr. Karen Pryor on Twitter


All Things Sensory on Instagram

All Things Sensory on Facebook

Full Show Transcript 

[00:00:01] RH: Hey, there. I’m Rachel.


[00:00:02] JH: I’m Jessica. This is All Things Sensory by Harkla. Together, we’re on a mission to help children, families, therapists and educators live happy, healthy lives.


[00:00:11] RH: We dive into All Things Sensory special needs, occupational therapy, parenting, self-care and so much more. In each episode, we share raw, honest, fun ideas and strategies for everyone to implement into daily life.


[00:00:25] JH: Thank you so much for joining us.




[00:00:31] JH: Hello, everyone. Welcome back to another fantastic episode of All Things Sensory by Harkla. Today, we are chatting with Dr. Karen Pryor, and we are going to talk about all things neuroplasticity. It's a really great conversation. She's very knowledgeable, and she shares some really great insights with us.


[00:00:49] RH: Yeah. I was just going to say, she's a wealth of knowledge. We're excited to share this interview with you. Let's go ahead and meet Dr. Karen.


[00:00:58] JH: Let's do it.




[00:00:59] RH: All right. Hi, Dr. Karen Pryor. How are you today? Welcome.


[00:01:04] KP: I am sitting on top of the mountain, enjoying myself, talking to two other professionals, so it's a wonderful day.


[00:01:11] JH: Yeah, that's how we feel, whenever we get to talk to somebody and other professionals, that’s exactly how we feel. It's awesome. Before we get started talking about neuroplasticity, and all the beautiful things related, we have five secret questions that we ask our interviewees, so that our audience knows your deepest, darkest secrets before we get started. Are you ready?


[00:01:36] KP: Sure. Would you like me to answer them before you ask them? If they're multiple choice, yes, A, C, all of the above, true and false.


[00:01:47] JH: We should do multiple choice and true-false questions, shouldn’t we?


[00:01:51] RH: Probably. We’ll have to try that.


[00:01:53] JH: Good idea. These are not, however.


[00:01:58] KP: Okay.


[00:01:59] JH: All right. First one. Okay. What is your evening routine like?


[00:02:03] KP: What is my evening routine? Many times, I write. I'm working on a second book. I'll do some research, and I'll read and I'm studying the head, cranial nerve space, mouth, tongue, neck, and writing a book that's more in depth on primitive reflexes. That's what my evening routine is right now.


[00:02:27] RH: I love it.


[00:02:29] JH: Oh, that sounds great. Can we get a copy of that once it's finished?


[00:02:32] KP: Yes. Do you have a copy of the first book?


[00:02:34] JH: I sure do.


[00:02:37] KP: Well, you can have a copy the second one, too. Hopefully, it will be on sale on Amazon as well.


[00:02:41] JH: Oh, good. Good. Good. All right. Next question, would you rather eat ice cream, or cookies?


[00:02:47] KP: Pickles.


[00:02:48] JH: Pickle ice cream?


[00:02:49] RH: Hidden option number C. Pickle ice cream.


[00:02:54] KP: Yeah. I'm not much of a sweet eater.


[00:02:56] JH: Oh, you still have to answer.


[00:02:58] KP: Let's see. Gelato. Gelato.


[00:03:02] RH: Gelato.


[00:03:03] KP: Yeah, I'm not much on milk, or wheat. Yeah. Not all for you. I’m also a naturopathic doctor and I have a doctor at natural health. I have an aversion to cow's milk. I'm just not going to do. It makes a lot of mucus.


[00:03:17] JH: Yeah. We forgot to mention that these are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, diet-free cookies and ice cream.


[00:03:23] KP: Well, there wouldn't be much left in them, wouldn’t they?


[00:03:26] RH: Gelato or pickles.


[00:03:28] KP: Pickle. Jalapeno pepper.


[00:03:31] RH: Oh, gosh. You're making this really hard, Karen. Just saying. Okay. If you could live anywhere in the world, where and why?


[00:03:43] KP: Well, I'm living in a really great place. I live on top of a mountain in Tennessee, and it's very peaceful. I live on about two acres. Almost every single day, there's deer, turkey, in our yard. There's lots of crows, lots of wildlife, we have hummingbirds. It's just a very relaxing habitat. I'm pretty much where I want to be. I would like to take more trips. Yeah.


[00:04:13] JH: Where would you go? Where would your first trip be?


[00:04:15] KP: Probably to Oregon, where two of my children live. My daughter and son-in-law are in Hood River, and my middle son is in near Coos Bay in Bend. Then, on the other coast, North Carolina, my youngest son is there. He’s in Morganton.


[00:04:34] JH: Well, on your way to Oregon, you can stop by Idaho and say hi to us.


[00:04:37] KP: I could.


[00:04:39] JH: Notice that she said, “I could.” Not “I will.”


[00:04:42] RH: I could, but…


[00:04:44] KP: I'll give you a seminar.


[00:04:46] JH: Yes. There we go.


[00:04:48] RH: That's great.


[00:04:50] KP: Yeah. Idaho, you got a lot of countryside.


[00:04:53] RH: It’s true.


[00:04:53] JH: We do. We do.


[00:04:54] KP: Beautiful.


[00:04:56] RH: Okay, next question. I'm nervous already, because I feel it's going to be secret option C again.


[00:05:02] JH: There's no secret options.


[00:05:06] RH: Would you rather sing, or dance in front of a large crowd?


[00:05:11] KP: Hum.


[00:05:11] RH: I knew it. Oh, my gosh.


[00:05:14] JH: Which is basically, singing.


[00:05:17] KP: Yes. I lived in Nashville for a long, long time. I told people, “I'm the only person in Nashville that probably does not sing”. I did play a little bit of guitar. Let me tell you, when you live in Nashville, you don't want to sing out loud. I mean, these people, you have waiters, you have people that are washing your car, you have lawn folks, you have carpenters, and they're all singer-songwriters, and they're trying to make it. They'll sing right there in your yard. It’s like your private concert. Yes.


[00:05:54] RH: Your hobby. Okay.


[00:05:56] KP: I would hum along with someone else. Yes.


[00:05:58] RH: I think that's a great answer. I like it. Okay, this is our last question. What is your sensory quirk?


[00:06:05] KP: I would say, really loud sounds, especially if I don't know what's coming. I just want to find the volume knob on some people and just turn them down. Then, I don't like it when people mumble either. I'm just going, “Is there some happy medium that you can have clarity coming out of your mouth, without a lot of volume?” That would just make me so happy.


[00:06:33] RH: I feel like, the auditory is a answer that we get a lot.


[00:06:35] JH: Yeah, that's definitely one of my sensory quirks. I have a lot, but that's one of them, for sure.


[00:06:40] KP: Yeah. Well, I think a lot. Usually, when I'm inside my head, I don't like to have a lot of disturbances. Even some sounds just distract me. I don’t like to be distracted, really.


[00:06:54] RH: Totally fair. There you go.


[00:06:56] JH: Okay, now everyone knows all of your deepest, darkest secrets. Tell us who you are, what you do, why you do it, all those things?


[00:07:04] KP: Well, I'm an author. I wroteTen Fingers Ten Toes Twenty Things Everyone Needs to Know, for sale on Amazon. I wrote it, because when I had children, I didn't get an instruction book. There was nothing. It’s like, here's your most important job. They hand you the baby, and you're going, “What's next?”. I had to buy books, but they really didn't tell me how to help develop my child's emotion, engagement, or how to develop their sensory system, how to help them with their visual, vestibular and potential reading ability. I develop programs, and I put it in books, so everybody can have it.


It's my dream that everybody gets one in their bag when the baby's delivered, then I go, “Hi, I've got instructions.” I have more instructions when I bought a new washer and dryer.


[00:07:57] RH: Right. Something wrong with that.


[00:07:59] KP: I got a guarantee. Nothing. They came to my house and installed it, carried off. Oh, I didn't have anything like that when I had children. I think, people need more help. This is the most important job anyone has. I was trying to help with that.


I'm also a mother. I have three children. Fortunately, all my children are smarter than me. My daughter is a chiropractor. Her name is Mica Foster. She's also an artist. My middle son is Jet. He is a nurse in an operating room. My youngest son is a lawyer. Let me tell you. Long range, this program works. It helps children achieve and they can choose whatever they want to do with their lives. Whether they want to own a company, or if they want to work in supervision, but it gives them all the substantial building blocks and mental capacity and physical capacity. It also helps with coordination.


Let's see. I have a lot of degrees, because I contribute a lot of information to my patient, patient families. I was giving them a lot of natural health information as well. I thought, I better get a degree for that, because they don't want to know that you've read 10 books and that you know this stuff. I got a PhD in natural health and I'm a naturopathic doctor. It added credence to that. I developed a certification course in primitive reflexes, so now people can get certified in primitive reflex certification specialist, if they want to do that, if they're a therapist, or I guess, they have to have prerequisites for that, I'm sure.


Let's see. I went into semi-retirement, but I used to work 70 hours a week and now I work about 45, so it feels like part-time. Yeah, it's pretty good. I give lectures everywhere. Now with COVID going down, I'll give lectures in let's see… 


[00:10:02] RH: Las Vegas is coming up, right?


[00:10:04] KP: Las Vegas. Yeah, I'll go to Las Vegas. Chicago, and some other cities. If you want me, you just send me an email and I'll come. I'm telling you, I'll be there.


[00:10:17] JH: So cool.


[00:10:18] RH: I think we will. Yeah.


[00:10:20] KP: Yeah. I’m ready. I’m ready. Because, I mean, I'm not sure I'm going to live to be a 105. I need to get this information out there.


[00:10:30] RH: Definitely. Definitely. That's what you're doing today. You're getting the information out there for everyone to hear today.


[00:10:36] KP: Yes. Yes. Good. Good. My passion and my goal is to teach as many people as possible, so that they can enhance and help other children, because when you help the child, it frees them from disabilities. Then, they have abilities. Guess what it does for the families? It frees them to do whatever they want. Yes, go to the beach, be in a play, just do whatever you want.


I'm trying to do that, because that is possible. I've seen it in my practice. I've seen it with my patients. They stay in touch with me for decades, and still send me information. “Look what our child's doing.”


[00:11:19] RH: I love that. Now, I don't think you mentioned, you are a Doctor of Physical Therapy.


[00:11:24] KP: Oh, yeah.


[00:11:24] RH: Yes. Oh, just on the side.


[00:11:25] KP: I’m a doctor of physical therapy. Yeah.


[00:11:28] RH: No big deal.


[00:11:31] KP: Yeah. I'm also a clinical hypnotist. Now, I am a hypnotist. I don’t know, we might be hypnotized on this, on this conference. I did that, because I wanted to know how to talk with my patients, so I could talk to their subconscious, because the subconscious operates about 90% of their perceptions and their interpretation. Guess where sensory interpretation lives? Subconscious.


Oh, so I became a clinical hypnotist, certified hypnotist, and I took training from a nurse anesthetist that had practice for 30 years. I learned how to decrease pain. You can decrease pain, also, in children. Learned how to talk to the mammal brain in children. I'll tell you this much, if you say the word, “No”, or “don’t,” okay, they don't hear that part. If you say, “No, don't pick that up,” they'll pick it up and be very proud. Because they hear, “Pick that up.” “No” relates to past and present. Subconscious doesn't have past and future. The subconscious doesn't have a past or a future. That's why children can learn some things. They just know right now. You have to say, like redirection, that’s how it works. Have you ever wondered why redirection works? That's how it works.


[00:12:56] RH: That's why.


[00:12:57] KP: Right now. If you don't want them to pick that up, you say, “Come over here and get this.”


[00:13:02] RH: I love it. I love the why behind it. That's fantastic.


[00:13:05] KP: I want to know why. I'm going to teach everybody why, and how to do things.


[00:13:10] RH: Yes. I love it. Okay, so let's talk about neuroplasticity. It is not a topic that we've done on this podcast yet. You are the woman of the hour, who is going to teach everyone what is neuroplasticity.


[00:13:26] KP: Neuroplasticity, let's talk about neuro. Neuro has to do with brain, the way the brain and the nervous system is set up. You have a brain in your head, it comes down your neck, which is brainstem, and then the spinal cord goes all the way down your back, and then you have all these nerves that reach out, that receive sensation information. Then sensation is going to come into the nervous system and be interpreted, hopefully. Like, this is warm, this is cool, this is round, this is hard, this is heavy, different things like that.


Then, with that interpretation of a sensation that arrived into the nervous system, a motor output, or movement comes out. How do we influence to change the way the wiring is in the nervous system for neuroplasticity to occur? You fire two things or more together. If you have a child that has difficulty with vision, you combine vision and hearing together in the occipital lobe, and the temporal lobe will wire as they are fired together. You can do this with any sensory information. That's how neuroplasticity works. It's very simple. It's based on a Hebb principle, whatever fires together, wires together. You've heard that before.


Let me assure you, whatever fires apart, wires apart. For example, if you've ever broken your arm or leg, or if you've ever patched an eye, you can have pruning of the information coming through that eye that's patched for an extended period of time, or sensation in the arm or leg. It'll also get much weaker.


Usually, orthopedists, do not leave a cast on more than what? Six weeks. It only takes a few minutes to rewire information. We've had changes in 60-minute treatment. Now, this is how quickly it can occur. You want to think again, who needs braces on their arms or feet, because if those areas are covered, they're going to receive less information.


You want to have them receiving sensation, and I don't have a dog in the fight. I don't try to sell somebody’s product or not, no products, nothing like that. I just want the child to receive as much information as possible. We've had children that were getting ready to walk that had quad and hexaplegia. They were pulling up to stay and coming to sitting by themselves. They went into a different system, and they were given AFOs, hand splints, rather than treated through sensory treatments with neuroplasticity. They're now in a wheelchair, rather than walking. Let me come over there. Yeah. I mean, it's just heartbreaking. Because you can change the brain, the brain and the nervous system dictates what's happens in the body. It's not the other way around.


[00:16:44] JH: Yeah, absolutely.


[00:16:45] KP: Yeah. You can keep putting them through milestone positions. If you do not change sensation going into the nervous system, you're not going to see changes.


[00:16:56] RH: Sure. What I was thinking when you were talking about combining vision and auditory, I was thinking, multi-sensory processing. That's basically what you're talking about is more than one sense at a time.


[00:17:08] KP: Well, yes. Except, you're thinking of two tracks. I'm talking about twist-tying two tracks together, because it's going to go in the nervous system, the brain strives to survive. if you stimulate two sensory pathways at the same time, the brain is going to put that information on the faster track.


[00:17:32] RH: How do you twist tie them, instead of having them go on two tracks?


[00:17:38] KP: They really don't go on two-track.


[00:17:40] RH: How do you twist tie them like you were saying?


[00:17:42] KP: Fire them at the same time. Do vision and hearing at the same time. Do vision and vestibular at the same time. If they have a deficit in one area, you want to find what doesn't work well and what does work well, and stimulate them at the same time. They will twist out themselves. I say, twist them, but it's really, the information will then jump on the faster track. We've had seven children that were diagnosed as blind by pediatric neuro-ophthalmologist. They've had micro-optic nerves, small eyes, many with cortical-visual impairment. When they went back to their physician for their six or eight or 12-month visit they said, “We don't know what happened, but you don't need to come back.”


[00:18:37] RH: What happened?


[00:18:37] KP: They’ll not need glasses. Yeah. It lines the eyes up. If you have a medial, or lateral deviation, you have strabismus, you have astigmatism, you have Nystagmus, all that is treatable with neuroplasticity.


[00:18:54] RH: Can you talk about what neuroplasticity looks like in treatment? Say, like an occupational therapy treatment session? What would that look like?


[00:19:02] KP: What you first want to do, you want to work from head, neck, trunk, arms, legs, the same way the body develops is the same way you do your evaluation. Because if you already have that plan in your eval structure, then you say, “Okay, what's my goal going to be? Okay. What's working well? What's not working well? Now, what's my goal?” Okay. You want treatment eval, treatment, what's working, what's not working and your goals. Which is not like a SOAP note. It is just not.


[00:19:37] RH: Definitely not.


[00:19:39] KP: We need to pitch that and make some other acronym. Anyway, with that in mind, you want to have a patient, for example, if you have the patient in mind, is their vision okay? Yes or no? Do they have Nystagmus? Yes or no? Are their eyes lined up? Yes or no? When you come to a no, like I'm going to have some patients, let’s say, you have a patient that can visually track left and right, down, but they can't look up. We have patients can't look up. Their eyes won't go up, their neck won't expand. Guess what happens when that happens? They can't integrate some of the reflexes, can they?


They're not going to integrate Moro, labyrinthine, some others, you know. You want to say, okay, he can't look up. He has a visual challenge. Well, what influences vision directly? Vestibular. I'm going to use rocking, rolling, swinging, and you can put them in your arms, you can put them on a platform swing. You can put them in a rocking chair. You can put them in a swing set. You can do all kinds of things as an OT, for treating vision.


Now, I also treat vision, and I stepped into it, because sometimes, I'm the first one in the home. I thought, these children don't need to wait till they eventually get an OT order, or a vision therapy order, or a vision rehab order. We need to go ahead and do it, because you have two years from birth to rewire vision. After that, you can, but it takes a whole lot more work. Putting vision and vestibular together is going to help with visual tracking, and you also add some sensation.


Like you do brushing, I use my hands, rather than a brush, because I want to know how briskly I'm touching the child on their head and base, and so forth. Them recognizing that they have a three-dimensional body helps them in a three-dimensional world.


[00:21:47] JH: Definitely. Makes sense.


[00:21:49] KP: Does that help? Did I answer your question?


[00:21:51] RH: Yeah. Well, and then even more, I was thinking about neuroplasticity, multi-sensory processing, sensory integration therapy. They're all working on the same thing.

[00:22:04] KP: You know why we’re all working on that same major topic? Because it's sensory. Sensory processing is in the nuclei and the brain communication to the lobes and the mammalian brain. You have a lot of processing going on in there. If you have a child that's having difficulty with sensory processing, you need to hone in on, was there any birth trauma? Did they breathe after birth? Were they in distress? Were they premature? Get all that birth history. Because you know what? Sometimes, there's trauma.


[00:22:44] RH: Oh, most of us had them.


[00:22:45] KP: Listen, a mother, I had a referral from that we're getting previous therapy from someone else, so they sent me the referral. They said, birth history, unremarkable. I said, “Okay.” Premature, 26 weeks, those are the remarkable. [Inaudible 00:23:03], 1 pound, 5 ounces. I thought, “That’s remarkable.”. Then, they omitted this, the baby did not breathe right after birth. Because I asked the mother. I said, “Did the baby have a stroke? Because the baby is just tiny. This baby's just tiny.” She said, “Oh, no, no. Baby didn't have a stroke.” They're only going to answer what you asked of them.


If there's therapists, or parents that are listening to this, make a list. Make a list of questions. Give it to your parents. Let your parents think about it. Because this parent thought about it longer. I said, “By the way, what was their Apgar, and did they breathe right after birth?” “No, he didn't breathe right after birth.” Okay. That makes a world of difference, doesn't it? Because you're going to have global problems. You're also more than likely, going to have mixed tone.


My push is to drive in sensory information into children, so they can process it, zero to six months, six months to 12 months, 12 months to five years. When they get to school, they can process sensory information. They can have sensory discrimination, and they can have integration of primitive reflexes. If they need to multitask, or they receive multi-sensory information, they're able to bring it in, process it and prioritize what they need to pay attention to.


[00:24:44] JH: This is like our soapbox of if kiddos got to kindergarten, and their reflexes were retained, or were integrated, they weren't retained, kids would be so much more successful at school. No one thinks to check those boxes, or ask about it, or learn about it. They just diagnose them with this, this or this, when chances are, it's probably related to those retained reflexes.


[00:25:12]KP: Well, know I know people that are listening to this can't see a picture, but if they have retained primitive reflexes, they're operating in lower brain centers. They're not going to have just a problem with primitive reflex obligatory responses. That's the tip of that iceberg. You need to keep looking. Then, you have to do deep brain sensory information entryway into the nervous system, to decrease primitive reflexes, but it rewires and recalibrates brainstem, midbrain, so they can operate in the cortex.


Now, everybody has primitive reflexes. If we had a really loud boom, like you thought they were dynamiting to make a road right outside your windows, you would get into a fetal position. Okay. Well, that's a primitive reflex posture. Any time they're stressed, they're going to exhibit things like that. When we are testing for primitive reflexes, in a school setting, we need to make sure it's a non-stressful environment. Otherwise, they are going to exhibit a lot of them.




[00:26:32] RH: Okay. We just want to take a minute and talk to you about our company, Harkla.


[00:26:35] JH: Our mission at Harkla is to help those with special needs live happy and healthy lives. Not only do we accomplish this through the podcast, but we also have therapy products, digital courses and a ton of free resources on YouTube and our website, to try to bring holistic care to you and your family.


[00:26:52] RH: Listeners of the All Things Sensory Podcast get 10% off their first purchase at Harkla, with the discount code SENSORY.


[00:27:01] JH: We would highly recommend checking out some of our bestsellers, like the compression sensory swing, the weighted blankets, and of course, our course on sensory diets, and primitive reflexes.


[00:27:11] RH: The cool is that 1% of each sale gets donated to the University of Washington Autism Center to support autism research and fund scholarships for families in need, to receive in-clinic therapy for their children.


[00:27:24] JH: Learn more about Harkla, and all we have to offer at harkla.co. That's H-A-R-K-L-A.C-O, and use the code SENSORY to get 10% off your first purchase. That's S-E-N-S-O-R-Y for 10% off.


[00:27:43] RH: Don’t forget that all Harkla orders come with a lifetime guarantee and free shipping.


[00:27:48] JH: All right. Let's get back to the show.




[00:27:51] RH: I am curious, what those deep dive sensory experiences that you do with these kiddos to really get those reflexes to integrate and move on and move out of that lower brain function.


[00:28:05] KP: Well, that's a six-hour lecture. Because, I’ll have to teach you the nervous system in a way that you didn't get it in school. You did not get functional neuroanatomy, neurophysiology and how to work with it. You didn't get it.


[00:28:26] JH: Then, give us your elevator pitch for it.


[00:28:30] RH: I like that. 


[00:28:32] KP: You have to have a calm environment. You have to be calm, okay? No scrubs. Do not wear scrubs. Because scrubs, if you wear them, it can trigger a trauma response from your children, because many of them had traumatic experiences with people that were wearing scrubs, for pain.


Then, you want to build a rapport with your patient and your mother, or your dad, or caregiver, whoever is with them. You also want to find out and intuit, is your person that's bringing the child in, are they calm, or not? Because they're going to influence how the child reacts. Energy and emotion is very contagious.


[00:29:23] JH: Absolutely.


[00:29:24] KP: Yeah. Then, you begin your testing. You have to set the stage for calm, or you're not going to get good results. Now, when I test for primitive reflexes, I usually do not touch their head. If you touch their head, it's a passive movement. Primitive reflexes in real life, it's not a passive movement. Why are we testing them in passive movement? It just doesn't gel. What I do with them is I give them sound, or I give them something to look at, a noisy toy. I ask parents to bring something they really like. I've got a lot of things at my office. I will ask them, get the child's attention and let me watch, watch how their arm posture, their trunk posture, their neck, their face.


I start with their face, their tongue, their jaw posture, their head and neck alignment, their trunk alignment, before I even go to arms and legs, which is much different than many people that test primitive reflexes are treating them. Now for the deeper dive, all primitive reflexes are stimulated by sensation. I call it numb and dumb. It's easy to do a rhyme, isn't it? Numb and dumb, you decrease the sensation, by extra stimulation, for example, a child has a fisted hand. Let's just say that. Then, I will numb and dumb the hand, and the child will relax the hand. There's a lot more to it, because you have to start at the base of the neck and come down the whole arm. It's not just hand. Does that help you? Did I answer your question?


[00:31:17] RH: Yes. It’s a long elevator ride, but I liked it.


[00:31:21] KP: We went up several floors.


[00:31:22] JH: Yeah. Up and down a couple times. I like it.


[00:31:25] RH: What's the one in Toronto? The goes all the way up to miles and miles and up in the sky. I did it one time. It was great. It was a lot of visual vestibular input, though. Let's just say that.


[00:31:37] KP: Doesn’t it kind of weave?


[00:31:40] JH: Man. That sounds terrible.


[00:31:41] RH: Yeah. It was a little frightening. Okay, where are we? We talked about the connection between neuroplasticity and reflex integration and sensory processing. I mean, they're all connected. We already know that.


[00:31:52] JH: It's all connected.


[00:31:54] KP: They're all housed in one human.


[00:31:56] JH: Yeah. It’s a lot.


[00:31:58] RH: Absolutely. Let's chat a little bit more about how OTs can implement just a few neuroplasticity techniques into their treatment session.


[00:32:09] KP: Can you give me a more specific answer? I'll give you another really long elevator speech.


[00:32:14] RH: Let's talk about maybe an example of a client that we're working with, who may be, since your sensory quirk is auditory sensitivity, let's say maybe we're working on some auditory processing and modulation. Are there any neuroplasticity techniques that we can do during a treatment session with that specific kiddo?


[00:32:34] KP: Okay. Here's a quick and easy short one. You want the child to be aware that they are there, that you stimulate them, or they get a brush, it depends on what your rules are, where you work, if you can touch the children, or work on the children physically, etc. If they know they're there, and that you have done visual tracking, you’ve awakened their cranial nerves, then you move on to other things.


Say, they can move their arms and legs, give them a drum to beat on and tell them to beat on it as hard as they can, so that they can increase their tolerance when they have force in movement, then it's going to help their tolerance of other noises. Then, the OT and the child can beat together, so they have that carry over. This is based on you can't tickle yourself.


If the child is doing the activity, it's an expect that he has an open pathway, he can integrate that information. He's not going to blink every time the stick hits the drum, or the five-gallon bucket. Then, you transition to where you're holding the sticks, and then he's holding one stick. You have two sticks, he has one stick, and then I asked for his stick. Ask him to sing with you, while you're beating the drum. If you use the limbic system, it's going to connect to multiple lobes, and it will be integrated much easier and processed much easier than if you don't have them hum or sing.


[00:34:14] JH: I love that.


[00:34:15] RH: I like that example. I wrote something down, because I was going to just comment on it. You said, you're going to start with helping them know they're there. That's like, you're going to do something that's really grounding, so that they can feel their body where they're at. Then, you said, vision would be next. Is that an order of operations that you follow kind of?


[00:34:34] KP: Yes. Yeah. You need to stimulate their scans, so they know they have a scan outline. Some older children, you can give them a shower brush and just tell them to brush themselves all over. I usually use my hands on small children and go from head, neck, trunk, arms, legs, so they go, “Hi, this is me. Everything else is [inaudible 00:34:56] operate.”


[00:35:00] JH: Totally. I was even thinking a vibration item.


[00:35:02] KP: Well, vibration is a different sense. It’s a different thing. Yeah. Vibration is different. Proprioception is different. Cold is different. Yeah, they're different families.


[00:35:15] JH: I have a random question that I've been thinking about, since you're working on cranial nerves for your book. Can you explain why it's so beneficial to push the tongue to the roof of the mouth to organize the system?


[00:35:32] KP: Well, it's really based on Kundalini and yoga. I mean, that's the ancient thing. 500 and a 1,000 years ago was a lot longer before PT OT existed. I'm sure, we may have had different names of helping people, but I'm not the master of the knowledge of all of that. It helps, because the tongue is an energetic center, an alignment. If you touch the tongue to the top of the mouth, it also is attached to other structures near the spine, the neck, and it helps with alignment. It helps all the way down.


The tongue has a magnitude of attachments, multiple striated muscles, and multiple sense organs. I was studying today, there's also – you have acupuncture map on the ear, on the hand, and on the body. There are maps for the tongue that corresponds to organ systems. I mean, it's just, I mean, knowledge everywhere, knowledge everywhere. I don't want to get into woo-woo, but let me tell you, if something worked 500 and a 1,000 years ago, it still works today. Nothing turned it off. The tongue has multiple attachments. They may be going with physiology. It attaches and it overlaps with musculature, all the way through the system, and through the trunk, and so forth.


[00:37:15] JH: I love that.


[00:37:16] KP: I have to do more research to give you names of everything.


[00:37:19] RH: No. It's just such an easy trick in the moment, trick to help organize the nervous system that…


[00:37:26] KP: Well, it's grounding. Okay, it's grounding. I have some children that cannot raise their tongue up. I have children that can go lateral and down, they cannot go up. Then the parents are saying, “Why can't my baby talk? Why can't my baby swallow?” I'm going, “Well, let's say, we got to get the tongue moving.”


[00:37:48] JH: That's a good thing.


[00:37:49] KP: I pull in some of my friends that are feeding specialist and speech therapy to help with that.


[00:37:56] RH: That's a good answer. I love that. We talked a little bit about OT session. Can you give us an idea of what parents can do at home with their children to work on neuroplasticity?


[00:38:11] KP: Now, I know this is going to sound like an ad.


[00:38:13] JH: I know what you're going to say.


[00:38:15] RH: She’s going to promote her, but…


[00:38:18] KP: My book is about 800 pages, and I'm writing a second book. Y'all want to know why. Why am I doing this? Oh, can I just do it part-time? Well, let me tell you, if you learn to play the piano, and you had a parent that went, “I'm paying for these lessons, you're going to practice every day.” Well, if you practice piano every day, which is a two op, harsh ear, two-hand, two-foot activity that you read two lines of music and you hear it with two ears, that's a whole-body activity, playing the piano. Moving your body through space, operates and uses all these as well. You want to consider, “Huh, do I just want to go to OT or PT one day a week on Wednesday at one o’clock?” No, you want to practice it every day, so that the practice will make pathways.


[00:39:11] RH: Basically, consistency.


[00:39:14] KP: Well, and you can integrate it in play. It doesn't have to be work. Children will play longer than they work, just like any adult will play longer than they work. They'll go to a football game and stand up there and the whole thing for four hours. They will not rake through yard for four hours.


[00:39:33] JH: What a great example. My gosh. That was a great example.


[00:39:42] KP: I won't do that. I'm not going to say everybody. I'm sure there's people that will. I admire you, come to my house. You want to integrate it into your day. You want to wake your baby up in the morning. You want to follow a specific sequence. You want to stimulate vision, hearing, smell, taste, tongue movement, neck rotation. Rotation is key. Rotation starts and stops every single motion.


Many times, another thing that's a learning to me is when I receive notes from a previous therapist that says, this child has core weakness. Well, weakness, or strength is completely different than tone. Sometimes it is a tone challenge, or the child can't rotate their trunk. Yesterday, I evaluated a child that was from a previous therapist, oh, he's going to get fitted for this or his trunk. I said, “Well, do you think it's going to make him stronger?” “No, but it'll make him look better.” I said, “How long will he wear it?” He was in hospital. “I mean, how long is he going to wear that? I mean, hello. He's three. Okay.”


Now I said, “I want you to try two things.” I had her stimulate head, neck, trunk, arms and legs with her hands. Then I had her set him on her thigh, like a horse and rotate his trunk, while he's looking at the toy. I said, “Now, put him down and watch him walk.” She said, “Well, he walks completely different now.” I said, “Well, he knows where he is, and he can rotate.” This is a baby that was the size of a bean when he was born. I mean, he was like a string bean. I mean, he's like my hand. He's teeny-weeny.


He has progressed. He is walking, but he has this funny gait. Well, when you don't have rotation in your trunk, you’re tilty, tilty, tilty, and you can't climb stairs, and you can't step over objects, and you can't get up and get going. If you have rotation, that's the key. We add rotation, and it changes everything.


[00:41:53] JH: I'm going to try these with Trip.


[00:41:54] RH: I know, I'm just thinking in my head, I'm like, “Yeah, you're activating all the muscles, and you're stimulating everything so that he can actually know where he's at, what he's doing, and the muscles can fire differently.”


[00:42:06] KP: Yeah. Just think about this right now. Where's your left foot? You have to move. Oh, you’re looking. I saw you looking. I saw you looking [inaudible 00:42:14].


[00:42:14] JH: I just wanted to make sure. I didn't want to get it wrong.


[00:42:19] KP: Everybody. All their body parts go into the subconscious. Either you have to move it, or you have to look at it to realize you still have a left foot. When children don't know where they are, they don't know what to move. When you wake it up, however you wake it up with whatever devices you use, if you use your hands, if you use a cold ball, which that is one of my favorite things is you put it in a refrigerator. It's a steel ball, it has housing, is the coolest thing. You can wake up their nervous system to alert them where their body is, then they'll have their balance.


[00:42:58] RH: Yeah. I love it.


[00:42:59] KP: Or a bit of coordination.


[00:43:01] RH: Or both.


[00:43:02] KP: He was able to step over toys. He was able to walk heel toe.


[00:43:07] JH: And you do it every day.


[00:43:09] KP: Do it every day. Every day in every way.


[00:43:13] RH: Yeah, perfect. Okay, now that we're all of our interests are piqued about neuroplasticity, reflexes, the sensory, all the beautiful things. Curious for you, what are the biggest challenges that you deal with?


[00:43:26] KP: Getting the word out. Getting the word out.


[00:43:29] JH: Oh, this will help. We’ll spread the word for you. That's our job.


[00:43:35] RH: I feel like, maybe you've already touched on this a little bit. What is your motivation every day to keep going?


[00:43:43] KP: I know that what I do works. I want to share it with as many people as I can, because I want to help children have more fun, more satisfaction, be able to do things they want to do, if they want to crawl, walk, climb, play, run, jump, play soccer, if they want to play an instrument, if they want to sing, whatever they want to do.


[00:44:11] RH: Or hum.


[00:44:12] KP: Or hum. That's right. If you live in Nashville.


[00:44:17] JH: I think so much of your work, though, is involved in teaching therapists and teaching practitioners, because you can help so many more people if you teach the other therapists who are working with all these kiddos, and you can just expand your work that way.


[00:44:31] KP: Yeah. I teach a lot. I teach therapists a lot. I also teach parent groups. There's a Down Syndrome group. I teach with them. They're out of Chicago. I teach with a group that's from Japan. I’ve Done Zoom teaching with Australia, and where else? Mexico is lined up. I teach lots of time. That's why it's just not quite retirement.


[00:45:02] RH: Yeah, not quite.


[00:45:04] KP: Yeah. I don't want to retire. I never want to retire. I never want to stop helping. I also see private clients and it doesn't matter where they live, I can teach them in a group, I can teach them one on one, I can teach them neuroplasticity, particular to their child, or to their student they're working with.


[00:45:23] RH: I love it. All right, so you're working on your book, you've got lots of courses. What is your primitive reflex course, your certification course?


[00:45:31] KP: It is, I think it's 18 and a half hours.


[00:45:34] RH: Oh, wow.


[00:45:36] KP: Then, you also get a private session. I will meet with you one or two times, but you need to present a case study, and what you did and what your results were, so that it appears you understand what's going on and how to work with primitive reflexes. Or, if you have a hitch in your giddy-up, because I'm on south. Then, if you have a cog in your spokes, then I can help you and say, this is where you get to where you want to go. Yeah, so they can understand what to do. Yeah.


[00:46:14] RH: Perfect. So cool.


[00:46:15] JH: Yeah. I think, we're just going to link all of your things in the show notes, so people can go and find what's right for them.


[00:46:22] RH: Take advantage.


[00:46:24] KP: Sounds good. Sounds good. Please put my email. Karenpryorpt@gmail.com. If they get my book, it's really helpful, and it's not expensive. It's not even as expensive as a visit to a therapist.


[00:46:37] RH: No, it's a great book, too. It’s a great book.


[00:46:40] KP: Yeah. My sheep. My daughter did the drawings. Mica Foster did the drawing. She's a chiropractor, and she’s just so talented. She’s smarter than I am. She captured the brain, the brainstem, the midbrain. It all makes sense. You see the limbic system where it lands right into the cortex. When you drive in music, it helps children learn. I bet, when everyone was a child, they learned to sing 26 letters of the alphabet way before they were able to count to 26.


[00:47:15] JH: Yeah. I would agree. Yes, true.


[00:47:18] RH: It’s that rhythm.


[00:47:20] KP: That limbic system.


[00:47:22] RH: All those things. Well, Dr. Karen, Dr. Pryor, Doc.


[00:47:28] JH: Dr. Karen Pryor.


[00:47:30] RH: We could honestly pick your brain all day. I'm excited to soak up some more of the resources that you have to offer, learn from you. I hope everybody else will, because they better. You're knowledgeable, you're fun. It's great. It's been a pleasure.


[00:47:42] KP: Thank you so much for having me today.


[00:47:44] JH: Yeah, thank you.




[00:47:46] RH: All right. We hope that you all learned as much as we did during this episode. So many great things, probably need to re-listen to catch everything because there's so much here.


[00:48:01] JH: You should probably also check out her book.Ten Fingers Ten Toes. I'm reading it. It's fantastic. Super informative for not only therapists, but parents as well.


[00:48:12] RH: Yup. Definitely take advantage of all of her resources, all of her webinars that she has all, of the things. Just do it. If you have a minute, please leave us a review on iTunes, we would appreciate that, and send us a message on Instagram @allthingssensorypodcast or @harkla_family. Tag us while you're listening. We'd love to share the love.


[00:48:42] JH: Okay, thanks for being here. We'll talk to you next week.


[00:48:44] RH: Okay. Bye.




[00:48:45] RH: Thank you so much for listening to All Things Sensory by Harkla. If you want more information on anything we mentioned in the show, head over to harkla.co/podcast to get all of the show notes.


[00:48:56] JH: We always have the show notes and links, plus full transcripts to make following along as easy as possible for everyone.


If you have follow-up questions, the best place to ask those is in the comments on the show notes, or message us on our Instagram account, which is @harkla_family. If you just search Harkla, you'll find us.


[00:49:16] RH: Like we mentioned before, our podcast listeners get 10% off their first order at Harkla. Whether it's for one of our digital courses, one of our sensory swings, the discount code SENSORY, will save you 10%. That code is S-E-N-S-O-R-Y. Head over to harkla.co/sensory to use that code right now, so you don't forget.


[00:49:39] JH: We're so excited to work together to help create confident kids all over the world and work towards a happier, healthier life.


[00:49:46] RH: All right. We'll talk to you guys next week.




[00:49:50] RH: Just a friendly reminder, this is general information related to occupational therapy, pediatrics and sensory integration. We do not know you, or your child. Therefore, we do not know any specific needs. Therefore, you should always refer back to your pediatrician and occupational therapist for more information.




While we make every effort to share correct information, we are still learning. We will double check all of our facts but realize that medicine is a constantly changing science and art. One doctor / therapist may have a different way of doing things from another. We are simply presenting our views and opinions on how to address common sensory challenges, health related difficulties and what we have found to be beneficial that will be as evidenced based as possible. By listening to this podcast, you agree not to use this podcast as medical advice to treat any medical condition in either yourself or your children. Consult your child’s pediatrician/ therapist for any medical issues that he or she may be having. This entire disclaimer also applies to any guests or contributors to the podcast. Under no circumstances shall Rachel Harrington, Harkla, Jessica Hill, or any guests or contributors to the podcast, as well as any employees, associates, or affiliates of Harkla, be responsible for damages arising from use of the podcast.

Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

This podcast should not be used in any legal capacity whatsoever, including but not limited to establishing “standard of care” in a legal sense or as a basis for expert witness testimony. No guarantee is given regarding the accuracy of any statements or opinions made on the podcast.

Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC
Jessica Hill, COTA/L & Rachel Harrington, COTA/L, AC

Rachel Harrington, COTA/l, AC, CPRCS, and Jessica Hill, COTA/L, CPRCS are Harkla's in-house Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTA) and Certified Primitive Reflex Clinical Specialists. They have been working with children for over 6 years in outpatient settings. They specialize in creating easy-to-digest, actionable content that families can use to help their child's progress at home. Jessica and Rachel are the in-house experts, content creators, and podcast hosts at Harkla! To learn more about Jessica and Rachel, visit the Harkla About Us Page. Make sure to listen to their weekly podcast, All Things Sensory by Harkla for actionable, fun advice on child development.

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