Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD, is an under-discussed condition that affects families of all backgrounds.
Given the challenges that it can pose to parents, it can be pretty frustrating how it’s so surprisingly difficult to find solid information… Especially if this is the first time you’ve heard of SPD.
If your child sometimes acts in ways that are not considered typical, it might make you worried and curious;
“Does my kid have SPD? What does that mean for us?”
No parent should have to live in suspense when it comes to their kid’s wellbeing!
That’s why we went through our catalog of SPD research material- as well as our long history of anecdotal evidence- and put together a simple guide to help you make sense of this unique situation as a parent.
Let’s get into it!
DISPELLING THE MOST COMMON MYTH ABOUT SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER
The first thing to keep in mind is that SPD is a totally different thing from ASD (Autism Spectrum DIsorder). Many people think these two are interchangeable, but that’s completely false.
Contrary to popular belief, they’re completely different; yes, SPD is loosely considered a type of ASD, but that’s it.
Saying that SPD is the same thing as autism is like saying that a motorcycle is the same thing as a car, just because they’re both vehicles; it’s a false equivalence, with just a hint of truth that makes it more confusing.
So, if you see signs of ASD, that doesn’t necessarily indicate sensory troubles. And, of course, the reverse is true; signs of SPD don’t indicate that they have Aspergers, or anything else like that.
WHAT AGE DO SYMPTOMS OF SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER START TO SHOW?
The symptoms start pretty early.
Some of the most common ‘red flags’ will be observable as early as the infant stage, in fact.
For babies, the first things to look out for are:
- Discomfort while being dressed
- Problems trying to eat certain textures of food and drink
- Dislike for being held, cuddled, or played with
- Issues with falling asleep
It’s not easy to tell, though; all of these can be fairly common in babies, no matter their mental background. At this early stage, it will be hard to tell, for sure.
As your kiddo continues to grow up into toddlerhood, though, the signs would start to manifest in different ways.
THE MOST COMMON SIGNS/SYMPTOMS OF SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER
As your infant grows into a toddler- if they have SPD- you’ll start to get a clearer picture of their mind.
To make your own judgement on whether or not they have SPD, you first need to understand the two types.
For most kids with SPD, they will either be sensory seekers, or sensory avoiders. Sensory seekers underreact to physical stimulus, and often seek out more. Sensory avoiders are the opposite, getting overwhelmed by physical stimulus, preferring to minimize sensory input.
Early signs for sensory seekers:
- Extra rough ‘roughhousing’ during playtime
- Tendency to jump from tall places
- Aggressively swinging high on swings on the playground
- Running, crashing into things
- Playing loud music, making loud noises
Early signs for sensory avoiders:
- Disturbed by environments that cause strong sensory stimulation: bright lights, loud noises, busy crowds
- Struggling to put on, and wear clothes
- Dislike of physical touch
- Overreacting to food textures
- Extra sensitivity to pain
They’re not universal categories; most kids are a mix of both, often favoring one side more heavily.
A common and dramatic sign of sensory challenges is the sensory meltdown, which often looks like a temper tantrum. It may involve screaming, crying, and rolling around on the floor- or, it may take the form of sudden quietness, nonresponsiveness, stubbornness, and panic. In either case, just try to remember that your kid is not misbehaving- they’re lashing out, inadvertently, because their own brain is simply not equipped to handle their environments.
They need love and understanding, now more than ever.
It can be tricky trying to deduce for yourself. If you strongly suspect that your kid is struggling with sensory input, then your first course of action should be to book a therapist and get an official diagnosis.
At this stage, things do start getting clearer. Still, it can be tricky to tell for yourself. No 2 kids are exactly, the same, after all!
If you recognize these signs, and suspect that your kid may have sensory issues, the next step would be to check with your doctor, and get a referral to an occupational therapist.
HOW CAN WE OFFICIALLY DIAGNOSE SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER?
Occupational therapists can officially diagnose if a kid struggles with sensory input. Usually, visiting these specialists will first require a referral from your typical family doctor; a pediatrician, or general practitioner.
There are a variety of exercises and techniques they use to make the diagnosis, and these may include:
- Questioning, and making observations
- Testing your child’s reaction to various kinds of stimuli; swinging, jumping, running, leaning back, and spinning, to name a few
- Observing how your kid plays
Ultimately, if your kid does have SPD, this is going to be how you find out with certainty.
"I JUST LEARNED THAT MY KID OFFICIALLY HAS SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER - WHAT SHOULD I DO?"
The first thing to keep in mind is that there are resources to help you both! In many ways, first time sensory parents have it much easier than they did 20 or even 10 years ago.
The growth of the internet has helped make this subject much more widely known. In recent years, companies like Sensory Scout have been driving campaigns to spread awareness, fund research, build treatment solutions, and help awesome parents like you in every other way imaginable.
Occupational therapy is currently the best long-term treatment for sensory challenges. Make plans with your therapist for an ongoing treatment solution.
For faster results and help with preventing meltdowns, you can do a lot to help your kid by providing them with external solutions, in addition to therapy. For example, we offer toys, clothes, and equipment that are specially designed to quickly ease the challenges and frustrations experienced by kids with SPD.
In the meantime, you can educate yourself on the best treatments by joining our community of thousands of sensory parents, who will be happy to share everything they’ve learned.
Being a sensory parent is an exciting and challenging journey. While it may have its ups and downs, we can definitely promise you this; you’ll find it fulfilling and rewarding in ways you never expected!