Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is also known as Sensory Integration Disorder or Sensory Integration Dysfunction. It is a neurological disorder in which a person has problems regulating the stimuli from their environment with their senses. In layman’s terms, it is a traffic jam in the brain. Sensory Processing Disorder can affect the five senses (touch, smell, sight, hearing, or taste) or the vestibular or positional (proprioception) senses. Children can be either hypo-sensitive or hypersensitive to any of the senses or even a combination of the two for different senses. Inconsistency is a hallmark of SPD.
Perhaps you’ve noticed your child is a little quirky or has very certain preferences when it comes to food, clothing, or playing with certain toys. If there is dysfunction with the proprioception sense your child may be clumsy and avoid physical activity that uses gross motor skills. Your child may bump into things often and may even fall off of a chair from a seated position.
Not every child with Sensory Processing Disorder will have integration problems with all of the senses. Some might only have a problem with one or two senses. Some might be sensory seekers with touch and sensory avoiders with sounds. Sometimes a symptom might overlap two senses such as a child that will only eat green foods. On the surface, it looks like an oral aversion to other foods, but it could be a visual symptom.
Sensory Processing Disorder can be very mild requiring only minor adaptations for daily life. Other children might be so severe it affects daily life. A child could be so sensitive to taste and texture in their mouth they will refuse to eat many or all foods. This makes it difficult to get proper nutrition and malnutrition or failure to thrive can result. Problems in school can arise from poor concentration due to an itchy tag, a smelly room, too much noise, or the lights being too bright.
Toddlers and young children may not be able to verbalize that the lights are too bright or there’s too much noise and their only response might be to scream or be physically violent towards their caregivers. When this happens it can be very frustrating for parents who most likely have no idea why their child screams in public and can’t sit still at a restaurant. It can be very disrupting to family life and the family’s lives may begin to revolve around the child’s behavior that day.
If you feel your child may have Sensory Processing Disorder familiarize yourself with the disorder and talk to your pediatrician. This is such a new diagnosis many pediatricians aren’t familiar with it so you will need to be an advocate for your child. There are numerous checklists online to help you determine if your child should have an evaluation. One good one can be found at Sensory-Processing-Disorder.com.
Though Sensory Processing Disorder can not be cured, it can be treated. The first step is to take your child to your pediatrician for an official diagnosis. You may be referred to a neurologist for an evaluation. Your child will most likely be recommended to take Occupational Therapy. OT for children can be expensive, but more and more insurances are covering it. Occupational therapy for children is fun and they will probably not even notice they are working. The therapist will give you a sensory diet which are exercises you can do at home to help your child. Daily therapy at home compliments the weekly therapy with the OT.
Getting the diagnosis can be scary but with the proper diagnosis and proper therapy and sensory diet you can help your child succeed in life. Once your child starts therapy you will notice some improvements and over time your daily life will be easier and your child will be better able to function at home and/or school.