Imagine a child who:

• Screams when you show affection by softly patting her on the back

• Gags on most foods, including such typical crowd-pleasers as hot dogs and macaroni and cheese

• Hits, bites, pinches or grabs – not out of ill will; he just can’t help it

For the child with SPD, these symptoms are real and can often have a significant impact both on the child, and the family as a whole.

There is evidence that children with SPD are physiologically different (Miller et al., 2001). This has several implications.

  1. SPD may always be present, even when your child is an adult. The symptoms may be less severe, but your child will need to recognize the impact of SPD and learn life-long coping strategies.
  2. Early intervention is critical in the treatment of children with SPD.
  3. SPD commonly appears with many other disorders, including autism, ADHD, fragile X, cerebral palsy, and mental retardation.

Current terminology categorizes sensory processing disorders to include three distinct patterns:

  1. sensory modulation disorder
  2. sensory discrimination disorder
  3. sensory based motor disorder

Sensory Modulation Disorder

A child with sensory modulation disorder has difficulty interpreting and correctly responding to sensory information coming from the environment. The brain does not filter and interpret information correctly. The body may over-respond, under-respond, or vary in response to sensory information. The body responds in a way that is unequal to the sensory information coming in.

There are  three subtypes of sensory modulation disorder:

Sensory over-responsivity. A child with sensory over-responsiveness is overwhelmed with sensory input (noise, movement, touch, taste, smell). As a result, the body develops a fight or flight reaction.

Sensory under-responsivity. Children with under-responsivity may appear lethargic. In class, these children may slump in their chair. They may not feel pain appropriately and ignore a bleeding cut or a bump on the head.

Sensory-seeking craving. This child needs deep touch in order to feel. She may grab, pinch, bite, and hit, not out of maliciousness, but rather to obtain needed sensory input.

Sensory Discrimination Disorder

A child with sensory discrimination does not appear to accurately register sensations. They therefore do not get enough information from their body to make accurate plans.

Common symptoms include:

This appears to be seen where children

  • Lack awareness of messy hands/ face
  • Slow responsiveness to pain
  • Extremes in arousal states – low arousal or excessive sensory seeking
  • Motor planning difficulties
  • Postural challenges
  • Inattention
  • Disorganization
  • Poor school performance

Sensory Based Motor Disorder

This child may have difficulty sequencing new motor actions and appear clumsy. The pattern
includes children who display dyspraxia and a postural disorder.

Praxis refers to the ability to plan motor events. A child with dyspraxia has difficulty imagining, coordinating and realizing unfamiliar movements.

A child with a postural disorder may have difficulty sitting up, attending to tasks, and
organizing their body. One example can be the child who practically lies on top of their desk.

Resources

There are several books available that provide data and information on the nature of this puzzling disorder:

Christopher R. Auer, MA is the author of Parenting A Child with Sensory Processing Disorder: A Family Guide to Understanding and Supporting Your Sensory Sensitive Child (New Harbinger, 2006). He is a parent of three children, one of whom is diagnosed with ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder. He is also a sibling to a person with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Christopher Auer and Susan Blumberg have written a valuable book that finally provides parents with specific strategies and practical solutions to the daily challenges faced by these special children and their families. While other books DEFINE the problem, Mr. Auer and Dr.Blumberg offer techniques to minimize the effect of the disorder on the child’s daily life.

Making Sense of Your Senses, by Christopher R. Auer M.A., Michelle M. Auer MS, OTR (New Harbinger, December 2010) is full of activities and skill-building exercises you can do with your child to help him or her balance sensory stimulation and practice self-calming techniques. Kids can use these techniques anytime they feel overwhelmed or have the urge to seek out intense sensory experiences. Before long, your child will be better able to tolerate everyday sensations and prevent stimulation overload-essential skills for living a happy, healthy, and comfortable life.

My Sensory Book: Working Together to Explore Sensory Issues and the Big Feelings They Can Cause: A Workbook for Parents, Professionals, and Children. Lauren H Kirsten, LCSW. This interactive workbook enables children to develop a better understanding of their sensory systems by helping their parents and teachers create an individualized sensory profile. Through numerous strategies broken down by the different sensory systems, tactile, vestibular, proprioception, visual, auditory, gustatory and olfactory, children can learn to cope more effectively with the world around them. This is a practical tool for both home and school.

Answers to Questions Teachers Ask about Sensory Integration: Forms, Checklists, and Practical Tools for Teachers and Parents by Jane Koomar This interactive workbook enables children to develop a better understanding of their sensory systems by helping their parents and teachers create an individualized sensory profile. Through numerous strategies broken down by the different sensory systems, tactile, vestibular, proprioception, visual, auditory, gustatory and olfactory, children can learn to cope more effectively with the world around them. This is a practical tool for both home and school.

The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun, Revised Edition: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Kranowitz This revised edition of the companion volume to The Out-of-Sync Child includes new activities that parents of kids with Sensory Processing Disorder can do at home with their child, along with updated information on which activities are most appropriate for children with coexisting conditions such as Asperger’s, autism, and more.

The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder, Revised Edition by Carol Kranowitz The Out-of-Sync Child broke new ground by identifying Sensory Processing Disorder, a common but frequently misdiagnosed problem in which the central nervous system misinterprets messages from the senses. This newly revised edition features additional information from recent research on vision and hearing deficits, motor skill problems, nutrition and picky eaters, ADHA, autism, and other related disorders.

Treatment

There are many ways to support your child with a Sensory Processing Disorder, typically the first step is to get a thorough evaluation from an Occupational Therapist (OT).

Depending on the outcome of the evaluation, the OT may recommend a course of treatment to your child’s physician, or provide some recommended activities that you can integrate into your family’s schedule. .

Typically, the activities are fun and purposeful. Your child may swing, go through tunnels and obstacle courses, or work on practical skills such as writing. Even though it may sound like play, the activities are designed to integrate your child’s senses to normal functioning.

An example Activity for the Child with Sensory Based Motor Disorder

Obstacle courses can be a fun ways to build coordination. Just make sure that it is challenging, but not so difficult that it becomes frustrating for your child. Remember, your child drives the activity; your role is just to be a guide. So, have your child create the course. Have your child help you think of games to play.

  • First, you will need to purchase a bulk quantity of toilet paper. Get one of the really big packages with 24 rolls.
  • When it is appropriate, have everyone gather together. Have your children stand in the middle of the room, hands to their side and feet together. Now, wrap lots and lots of toilet paper around them.
  • When your children are all bundled nicely, set up an obstacle course, which might involve jumping over pillows, hopping to the left or right, or turning in a circle. Structure the course to be fun for your children, taking into account what skills they already have and remembering they are wrapped in toilet paper! Make sure you have a beginning and ending point.
  • When you say ‘go’, have your children complete the course, and when they get to the finish line, tell them that they can break out of their wrapping.
  • In a fun way, you have provided sensory input to your child with SPD, as well as provided an opportunity to develop motor planning skills. Best of all, your child didn’t even notice, as it was too much fun.

Suggested Interventions May Include: 

  • Sensory Integration based therapy with a large amount of touch and proprioceptive input
  • Sensory Diet with high tactile input to increase the receptivity of nervous system
  • Therapeutic listening for auditory, vestibular, postural and breath integration as required
  • Individualised DIR/ Floor-time for increasing confidence, persistence and problem-solving as required