Sensory Processing Disorder (also known as SPD) can be a confusing issue to parents. What does it mean when professionals tell you your child has “sensory issues?”
I am reminded weekly in my therapy sessions that parents often feel lost and confused around this topic.
Here are the basics broken down. Sensory processing has to do with how children take in their world through their senses. Children on the Autistic Spectrum or those that have anxiety are more prone to having sensory processing issues, but anyone can have these struggles.
An emotionally sensitive child can be more physically sensitive as well. Children can be too sensitive (hypersensitive) or not sensitive enough (hyposensitive). Many children have both of these issues – depending on what sensory input you are talking about. Let’s explore the six areas affected by sensory processing issues.
(fancy word: Tactile defensiveness)
Some children feel more than other children. They feel those sock seams, those tags, those boo boos and tight shoes more than other children. They can’t wear certain clothes and tend to not like jeans. They are more sensitive to the temperature of their body, their food and their bath water. They are more sensitive about combing, washing and styling their hair.
(fancy word: Oral)
This can be quite a scary and debilitating issue. Some children are overly sensitive to the taste, texture and pressure of foods in their mouth. They might gag when having mixed textures (e.g. yogurt with fruit in it) or only want to eat bland foods. They may not like the feel of food in their mouth.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some children need to keep their mouths constantly stimulated and like to chew on everything and anything around them. They might drool and stuff their food into their cheeks when they eat. They might chew on their shirts and on their toys.
(fancy word: Olfactory)
These children have – what I like to call – supersonic noses. They can smell everything more intensely and often this is not a good thing. They get overwhelmed with smells and might want to avoid restaurants or other environments where the smell is too pronounced.
(fancy word: Auditory processing)
Some children have supersonic hearing. They hear sounds louder than the rest of us. These children will often cover their ears when the rest of us are just fine. They get startled by noises and will often want to avoid loud places like fireworks, movies and concerts. Even mundane noises like the vacuum, garbage disposal and dryer can cause distress for these children.
Auditory processing can also impact how children process information. You can find more information about that here.
(fancy word: Proprioceptive dysfunction)
This category can be very confusing. These children have a hard time planning where they are going (motor planning). They can appear clumsy, accident prone and uncoordinated. They might have poor posture or seem “floppy.” Some children might bump into things, play too hard with toys and want to wear tight clothing.
BALANCE & MOVEMENT
(fancy word: Vestibular)
These children may not like to be hung upside down or to be spun around. They may not like being backwards in cars or going on fast rides at amusement parks. They might have weak stomachs and suffer motion sickness more often. Conversely, you have children who are always on the move and need constant movement.
It is important to remember that these children truly feel these sensations more intensely than the rest of us and they need our patience and understanding.
This is by far not a comprehensive or detailed explanation of Sensory Processing Disorder.
My hope is that this article will provide you with a quick explanation of a very common issue. For more information on Sensory Processing Disorder visit Spdfoundation.net or take this 12 minute parenting video on the topic here.