What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition where the brain has trouble collecting and reacting to information coming from the senses. Children with sensory processing disorder have sensitivity to different sensory inputs and have a difficulty regulating their senses. Sensory sensitivity can be overwhelming to parents, especially if it is a new diagnosis. The tips below can help parents as they navigate through life parenting a child with SPD.
Children may display symptoms of hypersensitivity – a child who is over-sensitive to stimuli – or hyposensitivity – a child who is under sensitive to stimuli.
A child who is over sensitive to touch may avoid several of all types of touching or may shy away from being touched. This is known as tactile defensiveness. They may not like to be held as infants or toddlers. These children may not like the feel of certain textures on their hands and feet and avoid things that may make them messy like paint, glue, sand, etc. They may not like holding things in their hands – especially if the object is made of certain textures. This avoidance can lead to delays in fine and gross motor skills. They also may take issue with certain clothing items or fabrics, socks, shoes, seams, tags or waistbands.
2. Body Position
A child who is over sensitive to the body’s position has trouble understanding where his own body is in space. This child doesn’t understand how much force needs to be applied for certain activities, so they appear to be weak and clumsy. They may have trouble closing snaps or buttons or attaching snap-together toys.
3. Body Movement
A child with body movement sensitivities may avoid movements that require him to unnecessarily pick his feet up off the ground, such a jumping or skipping. He may be hesitant or afraid of stairs or playground equipment. He may have trouble with balance or easily become dizzy. He may easily become motion sick and avoid things like carousels or spinning toys.
This child has trouble shutting out background noise. Simple sounds like the noise of a vacuum cleaner may be too much. Or the hum of an air conditioner or refrigerator may be distracting and annoying. This is also the child that needs total silence in order to go to sleep and stay asleep. Being in loud or crowded settings may be difficult for this child.
A child who is over-sensitive to sight may have trouble adjusting to bright lights. They may have trouble following moving objects or making eye contact. They may become overexcited or agitated if there is too much to look at.
The difficulty that this child experiences is that many common scents or odors may seem overly fragrant. He may hold his nose and object to things that may seem fine to most people. They may gag easily or become nauseated.
Taste goes hand-in-hand with smell, so many of the symptoms will be the same. But, this child may also object to certain food textures. He may have difficulty with foods that are too hot or too cold. He may gag easily on foods or may find that only certain foods are acceptable. He may have difficulty trying new foods.
A child who is under sensitive to touch may not react to sensations that other children find upsetting. These can include childhood vaccinations or common, minor injuries such as scraped knees. The may seek strong hugs or cuddles and may be especially comforted by them.
2. Body Position
Like a child who is over-sensitive to body position, an under-sensitive child has difficulty determining how much force should be applied to an object. This child may too easily break crayons or spill drinks. He may push or bump into other children and seem aggressive because he can’t properly apply an adequate amount of force.
3. Body Movement
This child will seem fearless. For example, he may be the child that climbs furniture or wants to swing higher and higher on playground equipment. Or, he may be unable to sit still and constantly fidgets.
This is the child that just doesn’t seem to pick up on verbal instructions. He may miss something a teacher says during class. He may seem to not hear you when you call his name even though his ability to hear is not impaired. He may frequently ask others to repeat things.
Under-sensitive children may overcompensate for their sight sensitivities by touching objects. They may stare at objects or words or may seem distracted by them.
An under-sensitive child may crave certain scents. He may frequently sniff food, people or objects. Or he may not be bothered by unpleasant or strong odors.
This child may want to taste objects that are not meant to be food. He may crave certain foods or crave extra flavor – particularly something spicy or strong-flavored.
Knowing some of the common symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder will help parents to identify ways to help their children better process input.
***Source: Raising a Sensory Smart Child: the Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues. We recommend the book which can be purchased on Amazon.
This article should not be used in place of advice from a medical doctor or occupational therapist.