It all became clearer for us on an exciting trip to Disneyland. Our family had planned a day trip to the Happiest Place on Earth only to find that our daughter was not happy. Rides, performances and characters all seemed to get her agitated and upset. We had noticed several things with our daughter prior to the trip and a therapist had mentioned she thought our daughter had Sensory Processing Disorder but we were unsure until that trip to Disneyland. We knew we needed to do something different for ourselves and our daughter. When we returned we took her to occupational therapy, tried new strategies at home and connected with other parents who had a child with SPD. The following is our attempt to capture some of what we have learned and researched as concerned parents over the last several years. We hope that what you find on this page and others here will be encouraging and bring hope to a time of life that can be challenging.
Sensory Processing Disorder Tools
There are many tools available today that can be used to help a child regulate their senses. These tools may seem out of the ordinary to a person without SPD but these tools have proven to be a major help to those who struggle with keeping their senses organized in this hectic life. Here is a chart of some of the tools we have found to be helpful from our own trial and error with our daughter. In it you will find body brushes, special socks, swings, sensory sacks and weighted blankets.
|Weighted Blanket||Falling Asleep and staying asleep, Anxiety, Helps kids feel calm||$68.99||Great for sensory input, Flannel/Fleece, Easy to wash, Comes in different sizes and colors|
|Weighted Lap Pad||Soothes Anxiety and Wiggles, Self-Regulation||$23.99||Portable for travel and school needs, Soft, Washable, Comes in different sizes and colors|
|Body Brush||Anxiety, Calming, Centering, Preparing a child for an event or focused attention||$5.40||Comes with 2, Easy-to-grip, Greater density of bristles for more consistent treatment|
|Pod Swing Indoor/Outdoor||Gives children secure place to calm down and feel safe, Anxiety||$68.95||Indoor or Outdoor, Sturdy, Comes with everything to secure installation
|Socks||Kids that have issues with the seams on socks||S10.00||Comfort Seam for kids sensitive to seams, comes in different sizes, well made,|
|Therapy Hand Putty||Reduce anxiety and stress, Used in Occupational Therapy||$8.35||Non-scented, Comes in different sizes and colors|
|Sensory Sack||Calming, Deep pressure and resistance, Coordination and Spatial Positioning||$40.99||No velcro, Tubular sleeves, Comes in different colors and sizes, Great for playtime and therapy|
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
In the recent years Sensory Processing Disorder diagnosis have become more common place. After so many families did not have the tools and knowledge base available to help their children there is finally some headway being made in this field of child development. Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD according to Web MD is the “condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses”. Another definition worth considering is that from the STAR Institute which specializes in Sensory Processing Disorder. They say that “Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), exists when sensory signals are either not detected or don’t get organized into appropriate responses.”
These definitions show that Sensory Processing Disorder can impact individuals in unique ways. Some are affected in only one of their senses while others are affected by more then one. Some children may scream when the vacuum turns on because the sudden noise is not something their ears can handle. Others may cringe and run away when you try to put jeans on them because of how they feel against their skin. Just like autism, there is a spectrum of how Sensory Processing Disorder affects each person differently and some kids will avoid sensory and other are sensory seeker. While the formal categories of SPD are more in depth we tend to simplify it into those who avoid sensory input and those that seek it.
Symptoms of Sensory Processing for Avoiders
- Avoids large groups and crowds
- Fearful of loud noises and responds with high anxiety
- Bothered by seams and tags on clothing and may only wear one shoe type or no shoes
- Fearful of falling and/or swinging
- Clumsy and seems off-balance
- Separation anxiety and other types of anxiety
- Trouble sleeping
- Responds to smells and light in an extreme way
- Trouble eating foods that are not a certain texture or prepared a certain way
- Struggles with change
- Walks on toes
- Refuses to take a bath, shower or have their hair washed or combed
Symptoms of Sensory Processing for Seekers
- Always putting stuff in there mouth beyond the normal appropriate age
- May often over eat
- Chewing things that are not edible
- Constantly seeking touch
- Likes the volume extra loud
- Could be physically violent or too aggressive while seeking touch
- Craves textures, flavors, smells, noise, and/or light excessively
- May love to spin
- Climb too high or jump from heights
What are Sensory Processing Disorder Causes?
The field of Sensory Processing is still fairly “new”. Unlike many of the more common disorders, like autism, the research about the origins of the disorder are sparse at best. Some of the best minds in the world are working on the nature of the cause. But common sense can also lend a helping hand. It stands to reason that many children may have inherited SPD from either parent, in which case it is in their genetic code. Another thought is that environment could have played a factor as well. If there was excessive stress at birth the child may have been shifted to SPD. Some of the early findings for the cause of Sensory Processing Disorder are found in the book, Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder by Lucy Jane Miller and Doris A. Fuller . Their work was funded by the STAR Institute and they are a leader in the field of research and support for this disorder.
What are the Types of Sensory Processing Disorders?
From the definitions above we know that Sensory Processing Disorder is when a person does not possess the ability to process the information they receive from their senses in an organized fashion. This inability to sort through sensory information causes a nervous system collapse leading the person to reach a tipping point if not properly dealt with.
There are eight types of senses that a person can receive information from. They are Touch, Hearing, Sight, Smell, Taste, Vestibular, Proprioception and Interoception. Many people are familiar with the first five, but the others are key as well. The vestibular system of the body is the inner ear working in tandem with the eyes to create a sense of balance. The proprioception sense is our ability to be aware of our position in movement. The interoception sense is our bodies way of communicating with us. It lets us know when we need to use the bathroom, need to eat, need to sleep, and many other examples. These eight senses together make up the entirety of how humans gather information from the outside world.
Beyond these eight senses there are three broad categories where someone may have a type of Sensory Processing Disorder. They are Sensory Modulation disorder, Sensory-Based Motor disorder and Sensory Discrimination. These categories help us identify which ways a child processes information from the outside world. When you are able to identify which type of Sensory Processing Disorder a child has you are able to provide the appropriate interventions you need so your child can being to start thriving as they move their way through life.
Sensory Modulation Disorder
Sensory Modulation is apart of the central nervous system is what tells your body information about how intense, hard, long, and new outside stimulation is. The children who suffer from Sensory Modulation disorder have a difficult time processing how hard, often or new information is. This leads to a heighten state of stress because the outside feels unpredictable. There are three noted subtypes of Sensory Modulation:
- Sensory over-responsivity
- Sensory under–responsivity
- Sensory craving/seeking
Sensory-Based Motor Disorder
Sensory-Based Motor disorder is where the body produces motor output that is unorganized which may make the child look clumsy or position their bodies in distorted manners. There are two noted subtypes of Sensory-Based Motor Disorder:
- Postural disorder
Sensory Discrimination Disorder
Sensory discrimination disorder is where the individual is not able to process external sensory information properly. This is where a child may not able to focus on one specific object because they are also distracted by other visual stimuli. There are sever subtypes of Sensory Discrimination Disorder:
Video of Sensory Processing Disorder
In this video, you can see a powerful example through the eyes of a child with SPD. You can see how their daily routine is impacted by the combination of external stimulus and their bodies inability to process the sensory signals.
Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist
As mentioned above SPD will play out differently depending on the child. Some will have many ways that their senses are impacted by external stimulus, while others will only be affected in minor ways. Form our list of subtypes above we know that a child could have several ways that they suffer from SPD. Here is a list of some examples in this checklist that could be useful if you or one of your loved ones has Sensory Processing Disorder.
The majority of the public may struggle with some of these issues listed above but will learn quickly how adjust behavior in the moment to continue on with life. But children with SPD will struggle with these items above as they get into sensory overload and are unable to make the required adjustments for normal daily function. In time they will learn how to work through their SPD, but the impact on their daily life as a child is great and the struggle can be profound.
Sensory Processing Disorder Quiz
One the resources you have at your disposal with the progress of technology is the ability to take an online assessment to determine if you or your child has Sensory Processing Disorder. While a formal assessment should be conducted by an occupational therapist taking an online sensory processing disorder quiz can be valuable. Here are few to consider:
Sensory Processing Disorder Treatment
Having a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, autism, ADHD or other developmental condition can be extremely stressful and challenging as a parent who wants to do what is best for their child. Sometimes, it can be hard to know what to do or how to help, especially with Sensory Processing Disorder since it is not recognized as a standalone medical diagnosis at this time but rather labeled a condition. Many medical providers are not trained enough or as knowledgeable on how to help kids with SPD. This can be frustrating for parents looking for answers and help but there are many well-trained specialists and occupational therapists that can provide the hands on help that your child may need. Our own daughter is a Sensory Avoider and through occupational therapy we have learned about many tools, activities, and resources that have helped us increase the quality of life for our child which has made our whole family a lot happier.
Here is a list of activities we have found to be helpful over time with our own daughter and talking to industry experts and therapists we have worked with. There are many more ideas available to choose from. Hopefully these give you a good start.
We got this idea from our occupational therapist when we were having trouble getting our child with sensory processing disorder to sleep through the night. We tried everything to help her have a good night sleep, but she continued to wake up multiple times crying. It would wake up the whole family and few many months we were all irritable. Our occupational therapist suggested drawing a story with pictures to explain to her how our sleep time was to look. We read this comic each night for seven nights in a row to prepare our child of the plan and expectation for her sleep. The visual story helped her comprehend the change and adjust to our new standard. The first night of our new plan was extremely hard, but we got through it. The second night was better but still hard. By the third night the change had taken place and we all slept good in the house. Because of the success with this strategy we have used it for changing snack time, and starting school.
We also got this idea from our occupational therapist. This is where a child will put both hands into a bowl of putty, or other type of packaging and either look for hidden items or just move fingers through the putty. By doing this the child has a new source of sensory input that helps the child process information. It is a great activity for children that are sensory seekers, but can also be helpful for children who avoid sensory input because it is calming.
This is another idea we got from our occupation therapist. This is where the adult or the child uses a small brush with many small plastic tips on it to brush the skin. This seems counter intuitive, because for children that avoid sensory input this would be overwhelming, but it is a great way to help the child feel balanced and centered. As you brush you can visibly see the child becoming more calm and focused. We do this with our daughter before bed each night and in the morning before getting ready for school.
The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping With Sensory Integration Dysfunction by Carol Stock Kranowitz. This book is an amazing resource and explains Sensory Processing in a clear, concise way, giving lots of real life examples and valuable information on how to know if your child has SPD, the types, and what to do.
The Out of Sync Child Grows Up: Coping with SPD in Adolescence and Young Adult Years by Carol Stock Kranowitz. This is a continued work of Kranowitz and focuses on how children transition from childhood to their teen years. This period is hard for everyone but even harder for teens with SPD.
Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What To Do If You Are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World by Sharon Heller. This is an excellent resource for parents of children who are Avoiders. This will help you understand all of the ways the outside world can impact your child and how you can create a better environment for your child.
Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder by Lucy Jane Miller and Doris A. Fuller. This is another book to turn to as for help and support for those that are looking for answers for children who are struggling with SPD.
We hope that you have been encouraged in the reading of this article about Sensory Processing Disorder. It is a topic that is very personal to me. As mentioned above, my own daughter started showing dramatic signs around age four. When we started realizing something was different in her, we began to read books, blogs and talk to other parents for support. We realized that we were in a different category of life then most of our peers. We adjusted how we did daily life in order to accommodate her needs and keep us all sane. In time, we have made progress and are finally getting traction on it. We have learned to be more compassionate to our daughter and others because of what we have experienced. We have put a lot of work into creating this article in the hopes that another set of parents in need can find the support and information to get them started in their journey. We have included links to the books and products that we have turned to for our own help and hope that you can find it beneficial.