My 2 year old daughter was pre-emptively diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, yet it won’t be an official diagnosis until she is evaluated my developmental medicine. Which currently has a 12 month wait list 😤 So I’ve been doing my own research so I can be the best advocate I can be for my child, just like I did with her brother.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a condition that affects how your brain processes sensory information (stimuli). Sensory information includes things you see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. SPD can affect all of your senses, or just one. SPD usually means you’re overly sensitive to stimuli that other people are not. But the disorder can cause the opposite effect, too. In these cases, it takes more stimuli to impact you.
It is diagnosed in toddlers, and often has an impact on their development. Some doctors say that SPD is a symptom of other disorders — such as autism spectrum disorder, OCD, ADHD, anxiety, etc. — and not a disorder itself. Other doctors believe your child may suffer from SPD without having another disorder. Currently, Sensory Processing Disorder is not a stand alone medical diagnosis and needs to be diagnosed in addition to another behavioral diagnosis.
My Sadie is over-sensitive in every single category, and has symptoms of anxiety and OCD.
What are the symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder?
SPD can affect one sense or multiple senses. Children who have SPD may overreact to sounds, clothing, and food textures. Or they may underreact to sensory input. This causes them to crave more intense thrill-seeking stimuli. Some examples include jumping off tall things or swinging too high on the playground. Also, children with SPD are not always just one or the other. They can be a mixture of oversensitive and under-sensitive.
Children may be oversensitive if they:
- Think clothing feels too scratchy or itchy.
- Think lights seem too bright.
- Think sounds seem too loud.
- Think soft touches feel too hard.
- Experience food textures make them gag.
- Have poor balance or seem clumsy.
- Are afraid to play on the swings.
- React poorly to sudden movements, touches, loud noises, or bright lights.
- Have behavior problems, such as excessive tantrums.
Sometimes these symptoms are linked to poor motor skills as well. Your child may have trouble holding a pencil or scissors. They may have trouble climbing stairs or have low muscle tone, or have language delays.
In an older children, these symptoms may cause low self-confidence. They may lead to social isolation and even depression.
Children may be under-sensitive (sensory-seeking) if they:
- Can’t sit still
- Seek thrills (loves jumping, heights, and spinning).
- Can spin without getting dizzy.
- Don’t pick up on social cues.
- Don’t recognize personal space.
- Chew on things (including their hands and clothing).
- Seek visual stimulation (like electronics).
- Have problems sleeping.
- Don’t recognize when their face is dirty or nose is running
How is Sensory Processing Disorder Diagnosed?
It is only diagnosed by developmental medicine. Parents may recognize their child’s behavior is not typical. But most parents may not know why. Don’t be afraid to discuss your child’s behavior with your doctor. There is a sensory processing checklist that is used for diagnosis. They will refer you to both developmental as well early intervention, for whatever assistance your child may need.
How is Sensory Processing Disorder Treated?
Treatment is usually done through therapy. Research shows that starting therapy early is key for treating SPD. Therapy can help children learn how to manage their challenges.
Sensory integration therapy (SI). This type of therapy uses fun activities in a controlled environment. With the therapist, your child experiences stimuli without feeling overwhelmed. He or she can develop coping skills for dealing with that stimuli. Through this therapy, these coping skills can become a regular, everyday response to stimuli.
Occupational therapy. Your child also may need this therapy to help with other symptoms related to SPD. It can help with fine motor skills, such as handwriting and using scissors. It also can help with gross motor skills, such as climbing stairs and throwing a ball. It can teach everyday skills, such as getting dressed and how to use utensils.