Sensory processing disorder 101

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A typical morning in my home begins with, “My clothes hurt me. They are too loose. I need new clothes.” As a result, I begin searching for the “right” clothes for my 4-year-old daughter. After much time, many tears, lots of tight hugs, and a good dose of frustration, she begins her day in the same dress she wore the previous day and many days prior to that. The process of getting dressed, seemingly simple to most, is the biggest challenge my child faces on a daily basis.

Living with SPD

This is one example of what it is like to live with a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). “Maybe they are having trouble processing auditory [information], having trouble tracking, sitting, with sounds in the classroom, or tiring easily,” says Andrea Rich, speech language pathologist and executive director at A2 Therapy Works. “It affects their self-esteem, social relationships, everything.”

Sensory Processing refers to the way the nervous system receives messages from the senses and turns them into appropriate motor and behavioral responses. “A normal situation for most people will feel like chaos to someone with SPD,” says Rich.

Sensory Processing Disorder is hard to diagnose because it affects each person differently.
Stephanie Beaudry, mom of two children with SPD says, “When trying to explain my son’s hyperactivity or clumsiness is due to SPD, we get told ‘Oh, it’s just his age,’ but it’s actually because his nervous system doesn’t respond as it should in certain situations.”

“A child with SPD can appear to not be paying attention or to be abrasive, but they are not being bad,” Rich states. SPD may cause motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, or other have other impacts if not treated effectivity.

SPD creates challenges, but treatment is available. “We had a fabulous occupational therapist that helped my son. She gave us tools and permission to figure out what worked for him and what didn’t,” says Joy Alsup, mom of four. An occupational therapist can provide tools that help balance sensory input including swinging, wearing a weighted vest, pushing or pulling heavy objects, or jumping on a trampoline. Many of these activities are fun and can be integrated into playtime at home. (sensorysmarts.com)

Benefits from an occupational therapist

“We try to redirect sensory issues to something more appropriate,” Rich says. The individual “needs vestibular input and needs an appropriate outlet. An occupational therapist can teach parents what do at home and how to get ready for the day.”

An occupational therapist aims to educate parents and give families tools to help the child progress at home. “Early intervention is key. We see kids who completely overcome SPD, but [therapy] is also about learning to cope,” says Rich. “A child may need a sensory diet, joint compression, [use of the] Wilbarger technique, or a sensory gym. They may need to sit closer in the classroom, wear a heavy blanket, hold a stress ball, or chew gum.”

As a mother of a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, I encourage others to educate themselves about SPD and begin to approach the situation from the child’s perspective. Parents can then begin to use the tools needed to adjust their environment and celebrate as their child meets their goals and overcomes challenges.

It takes patience, persistence, and love to parent children with SPD, but when children feel accepted and supported, they can work through their struggles and thrive in school and at home.

Andrea Rich, speech language pathologist and executive director at A2 Therapy Works.

Andrea Rich, speech language pathologist and executive director at A2 Therapy Works.

A hypersensitive response to sensory input may include:

  • Being distracted by noises that sound normal to others (flushing toilets, clanking silverware)
  • Having a fear of surprise touch or avoidance of hugs
  • Avoiding swings and playground equipment
  • Having poor balance, falling often.

A hyposensitive response to sensory input may include:

  • A constant need to touch people or textures
  • An extremely high tolerance to pain
  • May often harm other children and/or pets when playing, doesn’t understand own strength
  • May fidget and be unable to sit still, may enjoy movement-based play such as spinning,
    jumping, swinging
  • May seem to be a “thrill seeker” and can be dangerous at times (brainbalancenters.com)
  • Children can have one or many of these characteristics, or some from each category and in varying degrees of severity.