Updated: Feb 18, 2019
This is the second installment of a two part blog series on Sensory Processing Disorder. If you are reading this and haven't read Part 1, I highly encourage you to pause and read that one first! You can read it here.
Sensory Processing is a three step process.
Step 1 Receive sensory information in the 'inbox'
Step 2 Interpret, file, and organize that information
Step 3 Create an action plan depending on how the information was filed in step two.
As straightforward or simple as this process might sound, let me remind you that this SP is a neurological process that happens on a chemical level at an incredibly fast rate. Simply put, the way we process sensory input is not a choice. It's easy to think that a person chooses to act or respond a certain way, but the reality is that we cannot change the chemical connections our brain makes, wether they are right or wrong.
*if you have gotten to this point and still haven't read part 1- stop! read it here!*
Ok, now that we understand the three steps of sensory processing, let me give you some scenarios where sensory processing is working well.
Your child is hanging out with you in the kitchen while you cook dinner. You turn the stove on to boil some water. Out of curiosity, your child goes over to check it out. They feel the heat from the stove and decide to back away.
In the classroom, there’s a lot of activity around your child while they are sitting at their desk- the person sitting next to them is tapping their feet which shakes the table, there is the sound of pages being turned, there is a lot of visual stimuli on the boards and around the room. All the while their teacher is giving them instructions on what to work on independently at their desk. They are able to focus, follow directions, and get their work done.
You and your child are in an area where there is not a lot of personal space- a farmer’s market, a concert, a school event. Someone accidentally bumps into your child, and your child doesn’t acknowledge it or doesn’t pay attention to it.
Are you starting to get the picture? Great! Now, here are some examples of when sensory processing is not working properly.
Your child doesn’t want their hair brushed. They’ll say you are pulling their hair on purpose, that your are trying to hurt them, not saying any of that is true, but that is what it feels like to them. They could also not be comfortable with brushing their teeth or washing their hair. Or they don’t want to bathe at all because they are over sensitive to the feeling of soap on their skin.
They have trouble understanding where they are in space. When you go to the swimming pool they cling to side of pool, only sit on the steps, or won’t go in at all because they don’t like the feeling of their body in the water.
They have trouble at center time/free play. They knock down toys or throw things too hard, they have a hard time using the right force or misjudging where they are in space.
They are over sensitive to touch. They will say other kids are hurting them, saying ‘so and so is not being a good friend’, when actually their oversensitivity to touch is sending them mixed signals.
They can also be under responsive- they aren’t picking up enough sensory information. They might look bored, or sleepy, or un engaged.
Is any of this sounding familiar? Are you thinking, “Yes! My child does that!”“OMG, that’s totally one of my students.” Great- what do you do now?
When do you know it is time to intervene?
It can be tricky knowing when something is just a unique quirk and when something is more than a quirk and needs to be addressed. What I tell my parents & teachers is to remember that we aren’t robots. We will all have days when we are off. What you need to look for is patterns in your child’s behavior. When that behavior starts interfering with your child’s success, that’s when we want to intervene. When your child is not being successful at school, when they are emotionally fragile- when they need a lot of protection, when they are having trouble participating in sports, when they aren’t able to keep up developmentally, when they have trouble being flexible- those are the red flags you will want to keep an eye out for.
So, say you are seeing those red flags, what can you do? How do you handle sensory processing challenges? Here are three ways you can start working towards success today.
#1. Educate yourself! Try to learn everything you can about sensory processing. Here are a few resources for you to check out:
-“The Out of Sync Child” by Carol Stock Kranowitz
-“Raising a Sensory Smart Child” by Lindsey Biel & Nancy Peske
-“Sensational Kids” by Doris A Fuller & Lucy Jane Miller
-The STAR Institute www.spdstar.org
-Sensory Integration Global Network www.siglobalnetwork.org
-The Sensory Project @thesensoryproject208
-The Sensory Project Show podcast (available on Spotify & iTunes)
-The Children In Motion blog www.childreninmotion.com/blog
#2. Make adjustments to your child’s environment
-Use headphones to block out background noise
-Or, use background music to help them focus (try rhythmical, predictable music)
-Try alternative seating- ball chairs, rockers
-Provide movement breaks
-Make sure they get plenty of sleep
-Keep them well fed
#3. Seek individual therapy with a therapist who specializes in sensory processing with advanced training. The trick to evaluating and treating SPD is to be able to analyze and tease out why your child is doing what they are doing. It takes a special person to be able to analyze the results and then find the most powerful/useful strategies for your child. So do your research, and don’t be afraid to try out a few different therapists until you find the right fit for your child.
Sensory processing can be complex and hard to understand at first, but trust me, you will get it eventually! You will have that “aha” moment, just keep learning and reading everything you can. Hopefully this information will send you well on your way to helping your child or student with sensory processing difficulties. If you have any questions- feel free to reach out to me and we can figure something out.