Despite its prevalence, there remains some confusing about what it is, what the symptoms are, how it can impact a person’s daily life, and how it’s effectively treated.
Sensory processing disorder, or SPD, is a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information delivered through the senses. In addition to trouble processing sensations from touch (tactile), taste (gustatory), sound (auditory), sight (visual), and smell (olfactory), SPD includes sensory integration issues with the proprioceptive and/or vestibular systems. Proprioception is the perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body, while vestibular system is the sensory system that provides us a sense of balance, spatial orientation, and coordination of movement. Deficits with sensory processing can adversely impact a child with learning, movement coordination, reading/writing, behavior and social function.
Interestingly, sensory processing disorder can look different for different people. Some are overly sensitive to their environment. We call this hypersensitivity. Light touches on their skin may feel chaffing or common sounds may be overwhelming or even painful. Alternatively, one may not be sensitive enough to certain stimuli. They might be what we call “sensory-seeking,” or hyposensitive. They seek sensory input that others might think of as strange or even painful.
Like autism, it exists on a spectrum and is typically identified in children, but impacts adults as well. The exact cause is unknown, but research has indicated there is likely a strong genetic component.
Symptoms of Hypersensitivity Among Children With Sensory Processing Disorder
Those who are hypersensitive may have some combination of the following symptoms:
- Withdrawing when touched
- Overly sensitive to temperature of objects, water, food, or air
- Refusal to eat foods of certain textures
- Dislikes having their hair or face washed, hair cut, fingernails/toenails cut, etc.
- Overly ticklish
- Avoids messy play, including glue
- Overreactive to unexpected touch
- Overly sensitivity to temperature including air, food, water, or objects
- Uses too little pressure when coloring or writing
- Poor posture, poor balance, poor body awareness (sometimes described as clumsy)
- Resists activities like slides, swings, escalators, elevators, etc.
- Gets car sick or motion sick easily
- Refuses to participate in gym class or dislikes trying new playground equipment
- Oversensitivity to light, colors, sounds
- Hums to block out background noise
- Easily distracted by background noise
- Strongly dislikes mixed textures (cereal in milk, chunky soup, etc.)
- Resists trying any new foods or different textures (extremely picky eating, preferring bland foods)
- Intolerance to teeth-brushing
Symptoms of Hyposensitivity Among Children With Sensory Processing Disorder
Kids with hyposensitivity may display some combination of the following:
- High pain tolerance
- Regularly bumps into others
- Seeks out tactile sensory input
- Stuffs food into their mouth
- Licks items on their own skin
- Tendency for self-abuse or injury (biting, rubbing, heavy pressure, head-banging, pinching, etc.)
- Tends not to notice messy hands, face, or runny nose, etc.
- Fails to recognize others’ need for personal space
- Needs to touch everything
- Unintentionally rough with pets, siblings, other kids
- Trouble with fine motor tasks
- Craves touch
- Writes or draws with heavy pressure on the pencil
- Trouble with fine motor tasks
- Trouble sleeping unless being held or hugged
- Can seem aggressive
- Grinds teeth
- Chews on toys, pencils, shirt, sleeves, etc.
- Stomps their feet when walking
- Seeks out wrestling games
- Poor balance
- Constant fidgeting
- Loves spinning, rocking, etc.
- Hypermobile (constantly getting up from their desk at school, etc.).
- Constantly hums
- Makes silly/inappropriate sounds constantly
How Occupational Therapists Treat Kids With SPD
Lots of these symptoms can mirror other conditions, but as mentioned before, it can be a wholly standalone issue – even though it’s not currently recognized as a distinct medical diagnosis.
Because sensory processing disorder can impact kids in all kinds of ways, our Brecksville occupational therapists work regularly to help them integrate these senses. Treatment depends on the individual’s needs, but the general goal of sensory integration is to challenge the child in a way that is fun and playful so they learn to appropriately respond to sensory stimuli in a way that is considered more helpful/functional.
There are different models of treatment, but one of the most popular is the floor-time method. This involves multiple play sessions in which we start out with the adult following the child’s lead (even if the play isn’t typical). In essence, the therapist “enters the child’s world.” From there, we use the play sessions to create various challenges for the child, pulling the child into what’s known as a “shared world.” The challenges are opportunities for the child to master important skills for thinking, relating, and communicating. These are tailored to the child’s specific needs. For example, if the child is hyposensitive to stimuli, then we’ll be more energetic. If they tend to be hypersensitive, then our approach will be more soothing.
Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.
Sensory Processing Disorder, Feb. 7, 2021, By Brenda Goodman, MA, WebMD
More Blog Entries:
A Child’s “Occupation” is Play – A Brecksville Occupational Therapy Perspective, Dec. 8, 2021, Northeast Ohio Pediatric Occupational Therapist Blog