Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a clinical label for people (adults and children) who have abnormal behavioral responses to “normal” sensory input such as sound and touch.
What is abnormal behavior?
This is behavior that is an extreme negative response to a situation, way beyond that of a “normal reaction” in others. A child is not doing it to be malicious, they are not doing it to get attention. They are not acting this way because they are being defiant. They are acting this way because the situation is making them feel STRESSED, extremely UNCOMFORTABLE, or sometimes they are even feeling PAIN. These kids don’t know what to do with that feeling. They just know that they want that feeling to stop and will hide, run, scream, throw tantrums, or do whatever they can to avoid that experience or sensation. Parents experience extreme frustration in trying to figure out WHY this is happening and how to deal with it when it occurs (like in the grocery store). This is what I call a “Sensory Child”.
What will trigger a parent to investigate if their child has SPD?
Often a child is bright, smart, and fun to be around a lot of the time. But then there is the challenge of dealing with extreme behavior and disruption of daily routines. Sometimes parents have an innate awareness that more is going on. Sometimes it is recognized early, but often it is not looked at until pre-school, kindergarten or even 2nd grade, when the teacher brings up concerns. The other kids don’t act this way.
When the child is not “growing out of the terrible twos”, has difficulty with accepting self-care, tolerating certain situations, is not well-coordinated, and has trouble with learning or getting along with others at school, something is not right. The doctor may not recognize it and may prescribe medication as the first course of action. Parents may know there is another “reason” for their child’s behavior.
How does occupational therapy help?
Treatment for SPD involves first, recognition that there is a connection to the sensations in a situation with the response or behavior that a child shows.
For example: A child who is sensitive to touch, (usually this is light touch on the skin), will have a host of behaviors showing their discomfort related to all things connected to touch. Challenges with daily activities connected to this include dressing, eating, toothbrushing, hair cuts, dentist appointments, arts and crafts, playing in the sand, grass or water, preference to be naked, or barefoot, or always wear shoes, anger or accusations of “he hit me” when someone brushes up against them while waiting in line at school, and difficulty with social interactions.
An Occupational Therapist can help parents to identify sensations that are stressful for the child and recognize how that triggers the emotional outbursts. The challenge of the parents then, is to look at behavior as a response to a sensory situation, think about what sensations are involved, and then look at ways to adapt or modify the experience to decrease the stress in the situation.
From the SPD Foundation website: “During the course of treatment, the therapist continually evaluates each child’s abilities in several areas summarized as “A SECRET” in Sensational Kids, Dr. Lucy Jane Miller’s definitive book on Sensory Processing Disorder in children.
- Attention: Is there a way to enhance sustained or divided attention to people and activities around the child?
- Sensation: Is there a way to modify the child’s responses to sensory input?
- Emotion: What emotion is the child experiencing, and can these emotions be regulated?
- Culture: What part of the family’s culture (habits and routines) can be changed to avoid challenging situations?
- Relationship: Is there something in the relationships experienced by the child that is causing his or her responses? For example, does the child need closer support or need more space?
- Environment: What in the environment is not optimal for the child? How can those environmental factors be modified?
- Task: What is troubling the child or difficult about the task at hand? How can the task be modified so that it is not so problematic?
In other words, the focus in therapy and in natural settings when sensory challenges occur is to first examine the factors contributing to the observed challenge and second, to modify or use the other “SECRET” factors to affect the problem area.”
When your child comes to see me for Occupational Therapy we will begin with an assessment involving answering questions about your child’s responses in a variety of situations to get to know if behavior is sensory related. I will assess your child’s motor coordination and reflexes. Therapy involves using a variety of therapeutic tools including NIS, MNRI Reflex integration, DPPT, Therapeutic listening, developing motor and balance skills, vision skills, working to decrease touch sensitivity, or other areas based on your child’s needs.
Along the way, we will work to recognize what factors are causing stress and then find ways to decrease or modify the sensitivity in the body, the brain’s responses to sensation, and the task to support successful participation in daily life.
Call me today to talk about your concerns and find out if your child may be a “Sensory Child”.