The golden question is; how do you treat Sensory Processing Disorder?
Truth is, sensory processing disorder has a tendency to lessen in severity as kids get older, and their senses and nervous system mature.
Still, as parents, there are things we can do to speed up the process, alleviate the stressful symptoms your child experiences, and help them stay calm and focused so they can make the most of their time in school and even enjoy a happy social life.
Every kid is different- there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for SPD. Still, there are a handful of options that have been used to great effect by many parents just like you!
It can be overwhelming trying to keep track of the different treatment options, and confusing trying to decide which one will work best. The truth is simple, however; the key to finding the best treatment is understanding the different options and trying them out to see the results first hand.
So, what are the options? Let’s get into it.
SPD is still not deeply understood- in fact, there is a good amount of disagreement in the scientific community about what, exactly, it is.
Still, since its discovery in the 1960’s, we’ve made a good amount of progress on treatment through experimentation, trial-and-error, and an increasing amount of research.
We’ve narrowed down a few great choices of therapy and treatment that can really help a lot.
In all cases, the first step in treating it is to identify which senses, in particular, are affected. In addition to the five we all know, there are also internal senses of balance, spatial awareness. However you decide to get treatment, your first goal will be to identify which sense(s) are affected, and whether your child has under sensitivity, or oversensitivity.
With that in mind, let’s move on to the treatment options.
What Is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy involves working with a- you guessed it- occupational therapist.
An occupational therapist will help your child work on activities that retrain the senses, and your child’s perception of them. These therapists often use a ‘sensory integration’ (OT-SI, for short) approach, which involves improving your child’s ability to react and cope to stimuli in everyday environments. That means doing things like getting dressed, eating food with utensils, and writing with a pencil and paper.
This develops fine motor skills (minute tasks such as writing, eating, or putting on shoes), as well as gross motor skills (full-body tasks such as climbing stairs, putting on clothes, or getting in bed).
When it comes to finding a therapist, we recommend first getting a referral from a pediatrician. That’s because, if you pay for it out-of-pocket, occupational therapy will be much more expensive. However, if your doctor gives a referral, your insurance will be more likely to cover it.
You can also find qualified, licensed experts in your area by contacting your local health board, or using the search function on www.aacap.org, the website of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
In addition to treatment in the therapy center, the therapists will make a custom-tailored ‘sensory diet’ for your kid to follow at home. You could even develop your child’s sensory diet yourself if money is too tight for regular therapy, but it will be more inefficient and take more trial and error.
What Is a Sensory Diet?
A sensory diet is a set of activities or routines that make it gentle and easy to adjust your child to a variety of different stimuli and sensations.
Often, this includes using satisfying, fun sensory solutions that give sensations such as:
- Deep pressure therapy
- Noise cancellation, sometimes with music
- Exercises in motion, spinning, etc., to develop inner balance
- Limb usage (using their arms and legs in different ways to create and relieve pressure strategically
If your child struggles with balance, it may help to use something like a swing. If they crave compression and pressure, ‘deep squeeze’ things like the Cozy Cocoon will help.
Your therapist will identify which senses your child most struggles with, and recommend specific activities to help develop these senses, and train your child to react and cope with the stimuli in a way that’s healthy.
Different kids, depending on their needs, may require other, more specific types of therapy, to focus on certain areas of physiological development.
Vision therapy: For problems with eye-motor skills. This helps develop skills such as writing, using utensils, and reading books.
Physical therapy (PT-SI): For help with sensory integration, especially in regards to physical sensations like squeezing, touching, and moving. This helps develop skills such as putting on clothes, managing and understanding one’s personal space, using stairs, and getting in and out of beds and chairs.
Listening therapy (LT): For problems with hearing and audio processing. This helps to better process and cope with sound input, and also helps develop the sense of balance which is located in the inner ear.
Psychotherapy: For problems with stress and anxiety, often caused by the stress of sensory issues. It helps kids learn how to cope, relax, and focus in different environments.
Supplementation: Drug medications are not recommended for treating SPD, and there is no ‘magic pill’ yet. However, certain supplements and nutrients have been shown to help support natural brain processes which are ordinarily very difficult for kids with SPD.
What is Sensory Integration Therapy?
Sensory Integration Therapy (or SI for short) makes for a fun way to help kids cope with stimuli, without getting overwhelmed.
This involves your kid being in a controlled environment, with lots of stimulating factors that kids can immerse and be exposed to. This can include things like playing in a mountain of pillows, getting firmly squeezed by deep therapy devices, swinging, and more fun physical activities.
To your kid, this will seem like playtime- however, they’re actually going to be developing lots of coping mechanisms for handling a very wide range of sensory stimuli! This will be a lot of fun, help them to relieve stress and energy, and teach them how to handle different sensations on their own.
What Kind of Results Can I Expect?
In short? Good ones! Once again, results will vary based on your kid and the treatments you try, so you’ll probably have to experiment a bit to find what works best.
While there is no magic ‘cure’ for SPD, we hear stories non-stop from our parents in our community about how these therapies improve their kid’s mood, focus, and behavior.
These techniques are not, strictly, ‘scientifically tested’ for kids with SPD. However, trial-and-error has constantly shown them to be effective.
Symptoms of SPD tend to decrease as kids get older, and these therapies can make that process faster and easier- both for you, and for your kiddo.
It may take some work to find a treatment that ‘fits the glove’, but it’s well worth it. Once you do, you can equip your kid to have an easier time learning to cope with stimuli, develop their mind, and enjoy a happy childhood that sets a foundation for a successful life in society!