SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER can be more than just a diagnosis it is an umbrella term for many types of “processing difficulties.” A person may have difficulty processing information that comes in the form of light, sound, touch, taste or smell. These issues may come from sensory overloads and make everyday life challenging to handle such as with ADD/ADHD and autism spectrum disorder
An occupational therapist explains the key symptoms and indicators of sensory processing disorder in toddlers and preschoolers, as well as how to acquire a diagnosis and treatment options for SPD.
Because most parents are never informed about sensory processing disorders, they are often perplexed when their kid acts or responds differently than other youngsters…
They may believe their child’s actions are strange or eccentric.
Alternatively, they may be disappointed since traditional parenting practices do not seem to be effective with their kid.
Alternatively, as parents see their sensitive youngster struggle to manage the world around them, their anxiety may increase.
However, there’s a legitimate explanation for a child’s odd, challenging, crazy, or sensitive conduct. They all result in sensory processing issues. These difficulties differ from one kid to the next and might be slight, moderate, or severe.
Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition that affects children who have moderate to severe sensory difficulties.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder, and how does it affect you?
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition in which sensory information is not processed properly.
Let me translate it into common parlance. To begin with, a neurological condition implies that a kid is unable to regulate the challenges that the disorder produces, yet sensory processing may be improved with SPD.
Second, as we observe in most youngsters, inadequate processing implies that the brain isn’t perceiving or reacting to the many experiences it is continually inundated with.
Third, sensory input refers to every feeling a youngster has via his or her eight senses:
- Make contact with (Tactile)
- Take a whiff (Olfactory)
- Imagination (Sight)
- Observation (Auditory)
- savor (Gustatory)
- Body Consciousness (Proprioception)
- Movement is important (Vestibular)
- Internal organ signals including hunger, bowel movements, and emotions (Interoception)
Any one of these senses, or all of them, may be delayed or hindered. When they are, we notice odd, eccentric, or annoying behavior in children.
That is, SPD happens when the brain mismanages all of the sensations it gets, causing problems in their lives ranging from difficulties paying attention to refusal to wear particular kinds of clothes.
The Diagnosis of SPD Isn’t Always Recognized
While many organizations and institutions acknowledge SPD, including The American Academy of Family Physicians, it is not included in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) or ICD-10 codes, which are required for an official diagnosis and insurance billing.
In the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, this is true.
Specially qualified occupational therapists, on the other hand, may assess for and offer the unofficial diagnosis as necessary.
As an occupational therapist, I hope that SPD becomes a recognized diagnosis because it will raise awareness about the high incidence of children with sensory difficulties, which is estimated to be between 5 and 14 percent of all children.
As a practitioner and a mother, however, the diagnosis has no bearing on how to assist children in overcoming and managing the symptoms of sensory processing disorder.
Sensory Processing Disorder: What Causes It?
More study on the etiology of sensory processing impairment is required. However, certain studies and hypotheses point to the following risk factors:
- Premature delivery – Until the last several weeks of pregnancy, the sensory system isn’t completely matured. It’s normal to find newborns that are born sooner than anticipated having trouble digesting sensory information.
- I’ve dealt with a lot of kids and families who tell me that one of their parents has battled with the same sensory difficulties as their child. For some children with the diagnosis, it seems that there is a genetic component, but not for all.
- Early sensory deprivation — Some studies have shown that newborns who are denied contact, snuggling, and holding in the first few months of life have sensory systems that do not develop as expected.
Others question whether environmental pollutants have an impact, but we don’t have enough evidence to know for sure. We also know that those who have been exposed to drugs or alcohol are more prone to develop SPD.
It’s also worth noting that a large percentage of children with ADHD (about 40%) also have SPD.
In addition, up to 75% of children with Autism Spectrum Dysfunction (ASD) show evidence of sensory processing disorder. There is also a significant frequency of sensory difficulties in children with anxiety disorders. However, since sensory processing disorder is a distinct condition, children with SPD are not often diagnosed with autism, anxiety, or ADHD.
There are three types of sensory processing disorders.
The sensory system is complicated, and occupational therapists utilize three main patterns or categories to diagnose Sensory Processing Disorder:
1. Sensory modulation disorder – The brain has trouble processing information and determining whether or not to react. The most frequent kind of Sensory Processing Disorder is this one.
2. Sensory discrimination disorder — This condition occurs when the brain is unable to distinguish between different feelings. It could be difficult to discern the difference between a quarter and a penny in your pocket without looking, or to distinguish between a light and a hard touch when someone brushes by you.
3. Sensory-based motor dysfunction — The brain has trouble sequencing steps and following commands, or it isn’t transmitting enough sensory information to the core, resulting in slouching and weariness. Kids with this kind of SPD are likely to struggle with sticking to a regular dressing regimen and switching up the processes. A youngster may also suffer in school if they are unable to sit at their desk for lengthy periods of time.
As stated by occupational therapist Lucy Jane Miller, a child might have only one of the three types or patterns of sensory processing impairment, or all three.
What Symptoms Do You Have If You Have Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory modulation is the most frequent kind of sensory processing disorder; it has three subtypes (as shown in the flow chart above), and a kid might have a mix of them. For example, your kid may have a sensory sensitivity to loud sounds and bright lights. However, kids may struggle to sit still and need a lot of activity, both of which are indicators of sensory seeking.
Let’s take a look at some of the most prevalent symptoms of sensory processing disorder…
Sensory Sensitivity Signs: Overprocessing Sensory Input
Overprocessing information causes a child’s brain to actually overreact to the experience it is getting. Another way to put it is that a youngster is hypersensitive to some or all of their senses.
It’s as though the brain is always operating. You may notice the following indicators in a youngster who is overprocessing sensory input:
- Are you afraid of loud sounds such as automatic hand dryers in public restrooms, a firetruck passing by, or the vacuum cleaner?
- Sensitive to various kinds of clothes, tags, and seams in clothing, making it difficult to dress.
- They may only consume a small number of meals because they are sensitive to varied flavors or textures.
- Those who are sensitive to scents may complain about a range of odors that others may not even notice.
- In any situation, sensitive to strong lights, but may suffer in places with a lot of overhead fluorescent lighting.
- They despise getting their hands dirty or walking barefoot on the grass.
- Are you afraid of swings, roughhousing, or sliding down a slide?
- Avoids trying new things and feels overwhelmed in crowds.
- Afraid of colliding with or being touched by others
Children who suffer from hypersensitivity are more prone to face sensory overload and sensory meltdowns.
Sensory Seeking Signs: Craving Sensory Input
Children are programmed to have sensory experiences in their everyday lives, but those who struggle with sensory modulation issues are always seeking out new sensations, as if they can never get enough.
When a youngster is seeking experiences, their sensory system might become chaotic, causing them to act erratically. In this instance, you may notice the following sensory processing disorder symptoms:
- Frequently runs, climbs, or collides with objects.
- Plays hard with the other kids.
- Never appears to wear out and has trouble falling asleep.
- At times, he hits, bites, or pushes for no apparent reason.
- Crusty, sour, spicy, salty, and other highly flavored or textured meals are favorites.
- All the time spins or hangs upside down
- He never seems to be dizzy.
- Touches everything, even other people on occasion.
- Has trouble sitting still and paying attention.
- Has a hard time following instructions
- Chews on their clothes, pencils, or other things in their surroundings
Sensory Input Underprocessing: Low Registration Signs
Although this third group is the least prevalent, a kid with sensory processing impairment may have limited sensory input registration. When a child’s sensory information is underprocessed in the brain, the experience seems to be moderate or ambiguous. The feelings aren’t registered or are just partially registered in the brain.
You may notice the following indicators in a kid with sensory processing impairment and poor registration:
- Constantly sluggish
- I’m not inspired to get up off the sofa and accomplish anything.
- Having trouble paying attention or learning in class
- Doesn’t pay attention to loud noises.
- Before speaking to them, you may need to touch them to catch their attention.
- Tastes and textures of food aren’t noticed unless they’re really strong.
- Frequently clumsy, as though they don’t know where their body is when they move about.
- Pain tolerance is really high.
- Doesn’t seem to notice the food on his face.
It’s conceivable for children to have a mix of these sensory processing disorder categories. More signals that are easy to ignore may be found in our piece on sensory red flags.
Is it possible for my child to have sensory issues without being diagnosed with SPD?
As you go through the symptoms of SPD listed above, keep in mind that occupational therapists who diagnose SPD look for the following:
- To have a substantial number of these symptoms in a kid
- An effect on their capacity to socialize, learn, sleep, eat, follow instructions, have fine motor skills, and navigate through their surroundings effectively for their age.
That implies there are a lot of kids with sensory impairments who don’t require a sensory processing disorder diagnosis, including my own boys. Sensory methods, such as the use of healthy sensory activities or a sensory diet, are still useful to them.
Sensory Processing Disorder in Children: What Age Do They Typically Develop?
Sensory processing disorder symptoms may be seen as early as birth, as some newborns scream when bounced, swung, or swaddled. Some newborns’ symptoms may go away, while others will persist and worsen into their toddler years.
Many youngsters don’t show evidence of sensory difficulties until they are two or three years old.
An occupational therapist should assess children aged 0 to 3 who show indicators of sensory processing impairment, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). At a clinic called the Sensory Integration Praxis Test, children aged 4 and older may take part in a complete exam (SIPT).
It’s a lengthy and in-depth assessment in which the occupational therapist asks the kid to perform a series of activities while observing their answers and motions.
The SIPT is a costly assessment; check with your insurance carrier for coverage and those competent to give the test in your location.
Treatment Options for Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory integration therapy is the gold standard for treating sensory processing disorder, and it is carried out by occupational therapists who have received extensive training in this method.
Both the sensory diet and specific sensory activities are particularly useful in the home setting, and both approaches may help youngsters overcome their sensory processing impairments.
Sensory Integration treatment is especially advised when a child’s behavior and ability to interact, learn, and employ age-appropriate motor abilities are adversely impacted by sensory processing disorder.
Help for Sensory Issues in Children is Free!
Unfortunately, certain treatment choices may have drawbacks. Because of your location or financial condition, sensory integration may not be a possibility for you. It may also be complex and stressful to set together a sensory diet or use the most beneficial sensory activities.
The most essential aspect of our aim at Your Kid’s Table is to assist you and make the specialized knowledge of occupational therapists available to parents.
That’s exactly what we’re doing with our new free Thriving with Sensory 7-Day Challenge, which will show you how to simply manage your child’s sensory challenges at home, no matter how large or tiny they are. Without all of the stress.
I hope you’ll join us and tell a friend who might benefit from sensory assistance!
You’ll receive lessons, worksheets, and handouts, as well as the opportunity to interact with a community of other parents who understand and directly ask me questions!
*Take a seat here*
More on Sensory Processing Disorder Signs
3 Ways to Determine Whether Your Child Is Over or Under Processing Sensory Information
Sensory Dysregulation: What Parents Should Know
What If Your Child Has Auditory Processing Difficulties and Isn’t Listening?
Top 10 Sensory Swings for Sensory Processing and Development in Children
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