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Sensory Processing Disorder

Our nervous systems receive messages from our senses and triggers appropriate motor and behavioral reactions. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is when those signals are either not detected or don’t trigger the appropriate response. This can cause challenges in carrying out all kinds of everyday tasks.

We have 8 sensory systems (tactile, visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, vestibular, proprioception, interception). Kids with SPD can sense the stimulus, but their responses aren’t the expected or appropriate ones.

Here are some warning signs for SPD:

  • Child cries for a extended period of time and cannot be soothed (self regulation/bonding)
  • Child gets very excited and cannot calm down easily (self regulation)
  • Child seems very shy and does not interact with anyone
  • The child’s sleep is disturbed at night and the child keeps moving
  • Poor spinal and postural muscle control (cannot sit upright)
  • Muscle tone hypotonic (too little tone) or hypertonic (too much tone)
  • Child is hyperactive and cannot sit still
  • Bedwetting beyond normal developmental age
  • Child has sensory issues, such as
    • Tags irritate
    • Irritated by water or particular textures
    • Very picky eater
    • Does not like being touched, does not like hair being touched.
    • Touches everything, space invader
    • Gets anxious or uncomfortable with sounds (particular ones) or sights. Some examples could be hyperactivity increases with visual or auditory overload, runs because of visual and/or auditory overload
    • Prefers particular textures soft, smooth
    • Gets irritated by some other textures (e.g. staying in water for a long time, does not like walking barefoot in grass etc)
    • No sense of fear and  takes unnecessary risks
  • Child has social issues
    • Does not interact with others (kids/adults), seems lost in his/her own world
    • Interacts with others (kids/adults), but doesn’t seem to get that they are getting irritated, i.e cannot read social signs
  • Doesn’t seem to hear what is being said
  • Doesn’t listen to what is being said. For example, you might say the same thing multiple times but the child doesn’t seem to get it
  • Mouthing foreign objects, chewing on nails beyond an appropriate age
  • No interest in holding a pencil (age 3-4) or coloring
  • No interest in reading or avoids it. (age 4-6)

For more age-appropriate grouping of symptoms, please refer to the checklists from Understood.org and the SPD Star Institute.

SPD can seem like ADHD and has symptoms in common with autism as well. See here for more information on the difference between SPD and ADHD.

SPD is diagnosed by occupational therapists. The process starts with an evaluation, followed by  a diagnosis.

The treatment plan typically includes occupational therapy, a home program and possibly modifications to the school environment. Primitive Reflex Integration is another option that parents use to address some of the symptoms. Some occupational therapists can also do primitive reflex integration evaluation and integration.

A weighted blanket at night is a simple solution that can really help a child with anxiety, autism or sensory processing disorder.

Sometimes addressing diet and gut can also lead to alleviation of issues.

See also

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