Sensory Processing Disorder: What it is and how to EMPOWER our children

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What is Sensory Processing?
Sensory Processing is the neurological processing and interpretation of sensation within one’s own body and from the environment. In short, it is the brain’s organization and interpretation of the sensory input for everyday use, hence behavior. This is a complex interrelationship of processes known as sensory integration. Modulation is a term you may hear describing the neurological process which the child’s Central Nervous System appropriately regulates (continually adjusts) behavior responses to continually changing external and internal sensory stimuli.

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
If this modulation is not working well the child may seem under responsive, over responsive (seeking stimuli), or both, or overwhelmed to sensory stimuli. When this behavior interferes with a child’s “occupation” in life (social, emotional, play, school, attention, body mechanics, self care, etc.) then it is termed a disorder, known as sensory processing /integration disorder. It is important to note that anyone and everyone has some sensory processing or integration problems from time to time because any kind of sensory stimuli can temporarily disrupt ones normal functioning.

The three main sensory systems we are referring to are tactile/touch (influencing motor control and emotional development), proprioception (sense obtain through one’s own muscles, ligaments, deep pressure to the skin therefore giving a sense of body position, organization, and calibration of movement), and Vestibular (sense of movement and gravity specifically postural control, muscle tone, coordinated use of both sides of the body, coordinating eye movements, etc.). Other sensory systems include olfactory (smell), auditory, visual, gustatory (taste).

Sensory Processing Disorder is individual to each child diagnosed with it. Some may be mildly affected while others have greater difficulty functioning in life. It is important to note that symptoms vary and not all need to be present. Also it is a marker of neurological dysfunction that a child may show symptoms one day or with one activity and not the next. The main type of therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder or Sensory Integration Disorder is with a Sensory Certified Occupational Therapist who is trained in diagnosing and treating. Treatment includes a safe and challenging level of sensory stimulation encouraging movement to focus the child on tolerating and integrating sensory input and be driven by the child’s interests and the “occupation” of play. In addition, therapy includes focusing on making environmental adaptations (such as in the home and school).

Some Symptoms of SPD:

  • clumsy (tripping, bumping, falling)
  • poor fine motor skills
  • delayed self care skills
  • poor muscle tone
  • difficulty initiating tasks
  • poor timing
  • poor posture
  • poor eye hand coordination
  • learning disabilities
  • poor handwriting
  • poor organization skills
  • easily frustrated
  • difficulty with social relations
  • constantly touching objects
  • doesn’t like to be groomed (hair, teeth, etc)
  • difficulty with seams, socks, waistbands
  • seeks only soft clothes
  • likes tight clothing, small spaces, weight of blankets
  • opposed to being touched,  would rather be the one to touch
  • hates being tickled or cuddled
  • often touches people or objects too hard
  • difficulty with eye contact
  • often smells objects
  • poor attention skills
  • picky eater
  • stuffing food or objects into mouth
  • difficulty with transitioning
  • hypersensitive to noise (things are too loud)
  • hyposensitive to noise (doesn’t seem to notice)
  • Hypersensitive to touch, certain fabrics, surfaces, etc
  • little awareness to pain and temperature
  • hyposensitive to touch (may not notice when clothes are twisted or on improperly)
  • hypersensitive to light
  • movement produces an anxious reaction (swinging, roller coasters, bike riding, spinning, rolling)
  • over seeks movement (swinging, spinning, rolling)
  • takes excessive risks in movement, extreme activity levels
  • walking on tiptoes

As mentioned above making adaptations within the child’s everyday life is also a part of understanding the child. One of the child’s “occupations” is self care including dressing.

DRESSING FOR SUCCESS!

EMPOWER!

Every child deserves to feel comfortable and adorable in their clothing. What if that same clothing could offer qualities that address sensory discomfort and therapeutic input? The child’s image of themselves and how they feel in their environment can enhance the social and emotional quality of life when that child feels organized and calm. We all have sensory qualities that make us who we are however when these neurological qualities interrupt our participation in life in a negative way it should be recognized. There are many children with an array of “diagnosis’s” that are subject to sensory hyper or hypo sensitivities, motor difficulties, and social differences, such as with Autism, Aspergers, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disabilities (SPD), Anxiety, and many other Developmental Disabilities. Why not make their clothing possess some of the very neuroscience qualities that could help enhance their social and emotional well being? As a mother of a child who suffered from sensory processing disorder and as a long time Sensory Pediatric Occupational Therapist and advocate I know first- hand it is not easy for our children.

Many sensory sensitive children suffer from preoccupations with tactile discomfort, a desire to chew, difficulty with spatial awareness, disorganization, difficulty with motor skills, hyper or hypo activity, as well as social and emotional difficulties.

Parents, therapists, and educators often express to me the benefits of weighed garments, chew objects, compression garments, and a child’s desire for soft materials however they frequently state that what is offered to them is so” therapeutic” looking and therefore stigmatizing. It’s hard to use many of these garments throughout “normal” life.

Options that are beautiful, functional, and unique should be given to parents and their children when considering the design of the child’s apparel and play products, It is important that as many of their personal characteristics are taken into consideration as well as the ability to take some therapeutic qualities along with them anywhere all day long.

When a garment is being constructed to address children who suffer sensory processing difficulties specific consideration should be made to address ease of function, tactile sensitivity, relevant design, safety, consistency in design for spatial orientation, and proprioceptive input (the unconscious awareness of sensations coming from receptor’s in one’s joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments). This helps promote independence as well as organization, alertness, and simplicity where quickness of dressing is often expected throughout the child’s day. When choosing a weighted vest or blanket for instance, it is significant to hear the child ask specifically for the “soft one”, or the “cool one”, or the nice one. It is as significant to give their parents beautiful, easy to use, and superior fabrics that are relevant and stylish. It is the right of the child and their parents to have non-stigmatizing products.

Effectively utilizing sensory strategies can help a child with Sensory Processing Difficulties. .Considering the aspects in their clothing is just another way a parent can simply use a non-invasive strategy aimed at helping their child and letting the child know you understand and accept what they are feeling!

Respect, pleasure, playfulness, comfort, and a feeling of security are aspects that can be inherent in their clothing! Fashion with therapeutic value should also express the darling nature and playfulness inherent in children.

Today’s guest post was authored by Susan Donohoe OTR/L, Certificate in Sensory Integration, who was the founder of Prince’s Sensory Delights, now Kozie’s Clothes, which specializes in clothing for children with SPD and special needs.

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11 thoughts on “Sensory Processing Disorder: What it is and how to EMPOWER our children

    1. admin Post author

      The more I read about yeast, the more I see it as a big problem in our home. It’s definitely a top question for our doctor’s visit!

  1. Heather

    Thanks for getting the word out about SPD. My son has been in therapy for a couple of years now. Unfortunately, food doesn’t always make the difference. SPD can be so much more complex. I wish it were that easy. Trust me, I’m a mom who’s tried pretty much everything!
    Heather´s last blog post ..A Little Bit of Crazy in Our Lives

    1. admin Post author

      Hi Heather! I’m sorry to hear that food changes haven’t helped..you are right, though. It’s extremely complicated! I do trust you, but I have to try. I will say that either way, we can find a way for Zoe that will help her live a good life. It’s just worth a shot that something can get better, maybe, if we’re very fortunate.

  2. Bethany Cousins

    Your list of symptoms is SO on target! I can’t stand that my only daughter, at ten years old, doesn’t want to take care of her personal hygiene! Although my daughter was diagnosed with an Auditory Processing Disorder, it becomes more and more apparent to us that she is truly an SPD child.

    We were aware that there was an “issue” when she was about 2-3. We were so glad to have an “answer” to her little tendencies that were driving us absolutely crazy! Despite her “issues” and “setbacks” in life, we have encouraged her – and I guess you could say pushed her – to go at life just like any other child in this world.

    Our children need us to raise them, despite any “developmental” issues, with the skills and abilities to become a successful adult – and my husband and I are determined to do just that! We have 5 other children, so individualized attention is not exactly easy. We have always worried about what she will be able to become as an adult…however…

    One thing that our only girl has been unbelievably good at, since the age of 2, is drawing. We noticed that her ability to draw, as a toddler, was beyond what any eight to ten year old could draw! Now, at ten, she is drawing cartoon characters that even adults cannot draw! We are extremely proud and, now, my husband is working with her to expand her ability to draw in every direction possible. With the Internet, I’m sure that graphic artists will be needed more and more and I’m determined to get her into an amazing art college. Her loves for anything artistic is very deep.

    She would LOVE to work at Pixar and I’ll do anything in my power to get her there. As difficult as it is do deal with, SPD does not have to hold your child back in life!

    Thank you so much for this post! I think people need to be more aware of SPD, because if it wasn’t for the wonderful speech therapist that she had at 3 years old, we might have struggled to find out what was “wrong” with her. I’ll be posting something on Mommy Rantings about SPD in the near future. I think more people need to be aware of the symptoms and understand, like you said, that we can EMPOWER our children, regardless of their struggles in life.

    You have earned a new reader!

    1. admin Post author

      Hi Bethany, thank you! First of all, I know that feeling of relief when you understand what is causing your child’s issues and can create a plan to deal with them. Zoe was diagnosed with sensory issues at age 2.

      Secondly, I TOTALLY need to hook you up with someone. I am online friends with Eileen Miller, who wrote “The Girl who Spoke with Pictures”. Kim also had the same skill – drawing – despite autism and sensory issues, and now as a young adult, is an artist in her own right. She not only illustrated the book, she is artistically gifted (and amazing) in a whole host of mediums. Go ahead and hit the contact form, Bethany, and let me know if I can help. I’m so thrilled for you!

      5 kids! When do you have time for life, lol… My hat’s off to you, I can barely handle two!

  3. Christina

    To put this very lightly, I need help. I am an army wife to a deployed soldier who won’t be returning until November of this year. I am currently a SAHM to my BEAUTIFUL son who’s 2 years old and has “the worst case of SPD” his OT has ever seen in her 37 years of practice. I’m 32 weeks pregnant right now and I am at such a loss. I have tried every single thing I can. Every behavior therapy available to him, all of the patience in the world (which is getting thinner as my pregnancy progresses) and all of the SPD products out there, chewy toys, wilbarger brushes, weighted blankets, soft clothing, a very strict bed time routine. I don’t know what else to do! My son DOES NOT sleep. At all. Maybe 3 hours a day and that’s it, I can’t even fathom what it’s going to be like when the new baby arrives. What is this yeast you guys have mentioned? ANY advice at all would help.

    1. admin Post author

      Christina, there is so much I want to say to you! First of all, Breathe. Deep. You need to take care of yourself, so the first thing is find a way to get him to sleep. Have you tried melatonin supplement? Doing that allowed Zoe to sleep 4 solid hours at the beginning of the night BUT when we combined it with cutting out dairy and putting her to bed early, she started sleeping through the night. We’ve also kept the room dark..we used to leave a nightlight on. Plus she’s in preschool, and added routine. It was a number of measures and still there was recently a night she didn’t sleep. She is 5 though, and this the first luck we’ve had with solid sleep since either ever, or maybe age 1.

      OK, I read about yeast / candida in “Healing the New Childhood Epidemics” by Dr. Kenneth Bock, I don’t know much else.

      Please connect with me on Facebook, if you have an account there. I have a great, private group that I may be able to invite you to that is full of parents knowledgeable about biomeds who can help you. Reach out to me in my contact form too, if you like! I’ll say a prayer for you. Do you have a support group at all where you are?

  4. Christina

    My name on facebook is Christina Marie Polanco, I’m located in Fort Hood, Texas. Actually we don’t have a support group out here and to top that off, his primary care physician has never even heard of SPD, he’s very young though and may not be educated in this matter. If you can find me on facebook that would be great. There are just days where I feel like I’m not doing everything I can for my son. If I need to make diet changes on top of everything else I’m doing I will. I pray for relief for these children. I know God only gives you what you can handle, and that he trusted me with my son, but I feel like I’m failing. I have such a fear that I’m a disappointment to my son because I can’t help him. ANY help I can get at this point would be so appreciated. My email address is futuremrspolanco@nullyahoo.com. Anyone who reads this and has any advice on alternative treatments feel free to email me. Thank you, and I will pray for all of your little ones as well.
    -Christina

  5. Jana

    I’m so thankful to have stumbled upon this site! Our 5 year old has SPD (he’s a sensory seeker) and during his first year of pre-school they told us they had never seen a child like him (one who didn’t respond to their “behavior plans”). It’s so comforting to know that I am not alone. The more I search, the more I realize that :)

    1. admin Post author

      Hi Jana, here’s another thing I’VE seen: teachers, care providers, doctors, therapists and psychologists who were flat out WRONG. Here’s the deal: NOBODY knows your son like you, and no one can give him the proper therapy or “behavior plan” without your say-so Read up, experiment, and join a support group with other parents and you will learn a ton. Then you can put your foot down when people or “experts” say thoughtless things. Good luck, BTW, love your blog :)

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