What does SPD look like?

I want it my waySensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”) is a clinical label for people who have abnormal behavioral responses to “normal” sensory input such as sound and touch.

Each of us has our own unique way of responding to sensations.  As children, we “teach” our parents what we like or don’t like, and keep them constantly trying new ways of doing things to keep us happy.  As we grow, we learn what we like and don’t like, what works for us, and then create daily routines based on our sensory preferences.

Zack was born premature.  He had tubes, pricks and many uncomfortable sensations while he was in the hospital.  When his parents finally get to take him home, they find that he loves to be cuddled and only sleeps when they are holding him.  When it is time to change his diaper or clothes, take a bath or sleep in his own bed, he screams.  As he grows, they see him as very smart but notice that he seems behind his peers with his motor skills, is very picky with eating, and toothbrushing is a nightmare.  When it is time for preschool, he has difficulty with transitions from one activity to the next, getting along with the other students and playing their games.

As a child, John was very active and always moving.  His teachers said he was a trouble maker, always joking, falling off his chair, and had difficulty with learning to write and math.  He was diagnosed with ADHD.  He loved to play in all contact sports.  As an adult, John loves to use his muscles and runs for miles each day.

When Kate was small, she was very picky about the clothes she wore, liked to keep things neat in her bedroom, and spent a lot of her time reading or being outside.  She felt unhappy every morning that she had to go to school.  When there, she was quiet and always felt like she wanted to go and hide.  The lights, crowded hallways and the noise in the cafeteria were torture for her.  As an adult, she prefers a smaller store for groceries and second-hand shops for her clothes.

In response to one or more kinds of “ordinary” sensations, individuals with SPD may be oversensitive (This shirt bugs me) or underresponsive (I didn’t even know I hurt myself).  Some will crave sensations, and some may have problems with motor skills and coordination (hand writing or learning to ride a bike).   Each day, they are living with the stress of trying to feel safe and stay calm in a world that (to them) is extremely uncomfortable, and sometimes even painful.

Behavior can be dramatically different at home and school.  Emotional meltdowns and “I hate you” at home are not uncommon. It is hard to pay attention and learn in the classroom.  Many are misdiagnosed with ADHD or autism, or as a defiant child.  If this is not recognized early (before  7-8 years old), school can become a daily traumatic experience.  Many who are not diagnosed fall through the cracks of the school system even though they are really smart kids.

Whatever the difficulty, such kids are often described as “out-of-sync,” a term popularized by Carol Stock Kranowitz’s 1998 book “The Out-of-Sync Child,” which has sold nearly 700,000 copies.

Does any of this look or sound familiar?  If yes, you are dealing with a “sensory child” (and maybe you now recognize that you were one).  There are things that can be done to make life and learning easier for everyone.  Call me for a consult to find out about therapies I use, and ways that I can help you to support your child in living their life to the fullest.