I have to start this post with the following disclaimers: I am not a trained pediatrician, occupational therapist, or physical therapist. My thoughts shared here are my personal experience with my wonderful son Luke and may not work for everyone. My purpose in sharing is to bring awareness to an issue that child professionals are still working to understand.
Sensory Processing Disorder, in laymen’s terms, is the inability of a child’s nervous system to receive and process information from the senses in an appropriate way. This may mean your child has a meltdown when a very loud firetruck goes by or you turn on the coffee grinder in your kitchen. Children can either be hyper or hypo sensitive to input from the world around them, which leads to behavior that either avoids or seeks certain stimulus. In cases of hypersensitivity to input, a child can often overreact inappropriately to what may seem harmless to us as adults. It’s important to note that as of this post, the DSM-5 doesn’t designate sensory processing disorder as a standalone diagnosis. It usually indicates that your child has ADHD or autism spectrum disorder (otherwise known as “being on the spectrum”).
When we think of “senses,” the usual suspects come to mind: auditory, tactile, and visual. These are self explanatory. However, two others exist that are less obvious: proprioception and vestibular. The former, proprioception, is your awareness of your body in space. The latter, vestibular, is your sense of balance. Obviously, these deserve thorough explanations that I will write about in later posts.
Usually, if you suspect your child may have challenges with any of these senses, your first place to start is your pediatrician. The most obvious challenge for Luke was his hypersensitivity to sound. After discussing this with his pediatrician, we were referred to an occupational therapist who will then evaluate your child. Included in this evaluation is a parent survey with questions about your child’s behavior. Some OT’s will even ask your child’s teacher to fill out a survey too, which I find to be helpful because we all know our children act differently at home and at school.
We saw two OT’s, one of whom we stayed with because she established such a great rapport with him. The other had a bigger office complete with a “sensory gym,” but we weren’t guaranteed to see the same therapist every time. Seeing Luke in that sensory gym was a very enlightening experience….
Included in the sensory gym was a swing that rotated 350 degrees and a ball pit that was almost straight out of McDonald’s in the 90s. When the OT brought me back to observe Luke in the gym, he was running back and forth between crashing in the ball pit and then running over to the swing to spin himself around and around and around. We found out that this sensory seeking behavior was the result of his hyposensitivity to proprioceptive and vestibular input.
A few books I’d recommend reading if you think you’re child may have difficulty with sensory integration:
Raising a Sensory Smart Child– Teaching your child self-advocacy in a world that doesn’t understand is key. This book has some great strategies to help you in your parenting journey.
The Sensory Child Gets Organized– This is helpful for kids in elementary school who have trouble getting organized for one reason or another. That is one of our constant struggles in our house so this book was a God send!
There’s so much to say, but we have to start with a basic overview of a very complex problem. More information is coming down the line in the following weeks. Drop a comment below if you have any questions or have any stories to share!
~ Ashley C