Does my child have sensory processing disorder? Boy with hands over ears.

Does my child have sensory processing disorder?

Sensory processing disorder (SPD) has long been associated with autism, and its external manifestations are often what lead a parent to getting a diagnosis. For a many years SPD was seen as a “symptom” of autism, but a breakthrough study in 2013 found that this disorder had a biological basis that separated it from many other neurological disorders. More recently it was found that SPD is actually a stand-alone disorder, and that children can have SPD and not autism, and vice versa.

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

SPD (formerly called Sensory Integration Disorder) is a condition where the brain and nervous system have trouble processing or integrating stimulus. SPD is a neurophysiological condition in which sensory input – either from the environment or from one’s body- is poorly detected, or interpreted and (or) to which atypical responses are observed. For a child with SPD, processing the feelings of hot or cold, tired, hungry, lights and sound can be challenging and overwhelming. SPD can even evoke irregular responses that can cause health issues like not registering temperature in a typical way that allows the individual to dress appropriately for health and safety’s sake. Like with autism, SPD exists on a spectrum and can affect only one sense like hearing, or taste, or all of them. As a parent, the real challenges of SPD are figuring out if your child is hurt, cold, hungry etc…and then helping them get to the point where they can regulate themselves.

Signs that your child might have Sensory Processing Disorder

  1. SPD can show up as over OR under responsive to stimulation from sight, sound, touch etc…Things that should cause discomfort like being too hot or too cold prompt little response, and other things like a dog barking can cause a response akin to physical distress and extreme anxiety.
  2. Intolerance to textures and certain clothing: some children with SPD cannot stand the way certain clothing feels on their bodies. They need simple styles with very few seams, and have to have to labels taken out. They may not be able to wear certain fabrics like wool.
  3. Intolerance to certain noises or loud noises: some children with SPD hate the sound of vacuums, sirens, or crying babies. These noises can cause what feels like physical pain to those with SPD, and make it difficult to concentrate or function.
  4. Food textures and colours causing extreme responses. Many of us with kids on the spectrum have to help our children navigate this issue.
  5. Difficulty using fine motor skills like using crayons or pens, putting small clothing on dolls, or using buttons on clothing for themselves.
  6. Difficulty with change or transitions. While all young children need transition time, a child with SPD can have real problems with switching from one activity to another, moving rooms or houses, changing classrooms, or even if you change curtains in your home. Change can cause meltdowns or total withdrawal depending on the child.
  7. Clumsiness: bumping into things or people. Those with SPD sometimes have difficulty knowing where their own bodies are in space. They can also be overwhelmed by their environment causing them to “not see” furniture or people around them.

There is quite a thorough SPD checklist here that can be helpful if you suspect your child might be struggling with this disorder. A doctor can then refer your child to a specialist for further testing. There is also a great article by occupational therapist Paula Aquilla that describes what SPD can feel like, and different ways it can manifest here.

Is there any way to treat Sensory Processing Disorder?

Yes, there are many ways to treat SPD, and the trick is to find the right one – or combination of different ones – to help your child. Occupational therapists who are skilled at sensory issues can be very helpful. Some things might just need to be left out of the diet, or in the closet until your child is old enough to develop coping mechanisms on their own. The most important thing to remember is that every person with SPD is different and will experience the world in ways that you might not understand. Developing a mutual “language” around what they are feeling and experiencing ( even if that language is non-verbal) will be one of the best tools you can help develop. As Paula Aquilla said:

The key to understanding a person’s response to sensation or their need to seek out sensation is to observe with an open mind and without judgement. We can all become detectives to determine possible underlying reasons for a child’s response to the sensation we present when we want to interact.

 

 

 

 

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  1. Elize says:

    My son is 3and a half. as a baby he loved to sleep but at about 6months he was horrible he would cry and cry for hours and i could not touch him or hold him. but it has passed. now for the last 2months he is over sensitive about most things he cries most of the day at home. there are sertain clothing he will not put on, if we get 3 hours of sleep a night thats alot. there are sertain foods he will not eat (like fries and meat) he complaines alot that he is cold even if it is summer here now. please help? i dont have the money now to take him to a doctor and i really need help to know if there is a possibility that he might have SPD?

  2. Rebecca says:

    Hi Maureen. Stumbled across this today and I’m glad I did. I have a little boy who is 2.8. Over the last year we have worried about his communication. That lead to hearing tests that he failed.. Skip to 7 weeks ago he had grommet surgery. And last week passed the hearing test! He is still very far away from speech. We are seeing a speech therapist but I do feel like the issue is deeper. I have seen health visitors and GP about autisum subject both disagreed with me. Hubby also disagrees and thinks he will pick up in time. 3 weeks ago I put him in nursery to see if that could help. I know it’s early days but I am so so beyond desperate for a better life for my boy.

    He doesn’t always turn to name but has massively improved since his op
    Eye contact was nothing but again getting better since op.
    Has a dairy intolerance (is this leaky gut)
    Likes to line up his cars
    Is not majorly into throughing tantrums.
    Given he hates to be told no.. Normally takes it so personal.
    Alot of playing on the floor while lying down?
    Takes massive comfort in playing on a phone or ipad, likes to watch YouTube kids.
    Is funny with food, crying over new foods or won’t try them.
    He is very very loving.. Always giving cuddles! Even nursery have mentioned how loving he is.
    He is the 2nd child.. In the middle of a 4yo and 9mo.
    Doesn’t grasp if he might hurt someone.
    His play is fairly ‘aggressive’ without meaning

    Could you point me in the right direction?? I’m clutching at straws trying to find something but ending up with nothing but a frustrating tired head

    Thankyou x

  3. Lana says:

    My daughter is 14. She gets overwhelmed by certain noises and the material of clothes. But this has never happened when she was younger, it only started a couple of years ago.
    Is this SPD? Any tips on helping her?

  4. Abi says:

    I have SPD and I cannot control it as well as I could. Help?

    • Abi, have a look at my reply to Kate as I sent her some links on creating a sensory diet. You would have to give me more specifics about what is bothering you in order for me to help. I am not sure what you are struggling with as every person who has SPD experiences it differently.

  5. Kate says:

    My daughter is 3. She was born premature at 30 weeks gestation.
    She is doing absolutely fine and it’s a lovely little person. However we have moments in the day when she throws herself onto the floor and cries and rolls. Dressing up in the morning is a nightmare. We normally go through 3 pairs of panties before she feels OK. Same for tops and leggings. It really is the toughest moment of the day.
    Her communication is a bit delayed but it could be to do with the fact that she is brought up multilingual.
    She absolutely hates any drop of water on her clothes. She panics when she spills it and takes everything off.
    She loves being barefoot and ideally naked all day…
    Do I need to see someone with her? We are in the UK. Thank you.

  6. joana says:

    my daughter has a melt down when she hears the sound of a baby crying, what can i do to help her? i just recently gave birth to a baby boy and shes having a very hard time…

  7. Hana says:

    Dear LT ~ if possible could you tell me where in Scotland you succeeded in a stand alone SPD diagnoses ? I’m an adult with SPD symptoms ~ yet it seems SPD comes under the umbrella of Autism or ADD where I live.

  8. Sara Wise says:

    My son is so scared of the wind, the beach (and the hush sound of the waves), the hairdryer and these sorts of sounds. Is there anything specific that he could be tested for as I really would like him to overcome these difficulties and hoping there is a solution. Thank you!

    • Sometimes just wearing a hat can calm down the wind sound. My daughter wears noise cancelling headphones a great deal of the time, even when she sleeps as she is bothered by traffic noise. Sometimes these sensitivities improve with age as more calming and coping skills are developed. If a person is auditory sensitive, this usually stays with them for life. You just have to find ways to make sounds bearable for the individual. My daughter to listens to music with ear buds on her iPad when we are in restaurants as she can’t take the music and people talking all at the same time. If we didn’t allow her to use this tool, we could never eat out.

    • Hayley says:

      My son used to be the same with wind, and the beach. We would wear a hat everywhere, a wollen one pulled over his ears a bit (and scream when he would see the beach). Now he is almost 5 he doesnt wear a hat anywhere (although is visibly challenged if outside in the wind. He can now verbalise when he is getting overwhelmed by sight and sensation so helps) and he now loves going to the beach. Hes even been swimming in the beach. This took many years to achieve. Its frustrating but he remains a sensitive boy. But its no longer so many quirks. 

  9. Liz Bentley says:

    I have been my granddaughter’s legal guardian for five years,she has experienced trauma before coming to live with my husband and I, she was subject to drug misuse by her mother and her foundation blocks for life where never nurtured. I have very great worries that she is dealing with SPD, she can’t bear being dressed, she screams and when we have managed to overcome that she screams about how her hair is brushed into a ponytail, she attacks me with great menace and says its all my fault, we can’t mention anything to do with being late and any kind of hurrying makes her go slower, she screams for large durations of time when her frustrations are high and I have to say she is pretty scary.  She is currently being given play therapy, but I think there is more that should be happening to satisfy her great sense of unease, I am trying my best, but I fear if she attacks me when she is older it could be regrettably the last straw  and we would have to give up our commitment to her. 

    • Trauma is a very hard thing to undo. Your granddaughter needs a predictable, loving and safe environment. I really like the Low Arousal Approach for aggressive behavior. It is person-centered, ethical and teaches us as caregivers how to give the right support in order to keep arousal levels low. Have a look at the website http://www.lowarousal.com .

  10. Nico says:

    Sometimes the feeling of  “dusty” rocks can make me feel discomfort. I don’t deal well with the sound of metal on a metal bowl. Sometimes certain positions of my body and hands can feel weird or discomforting. Do I have this condition or are these normal responses and feelings. I am sorry for bothering you, I know you must be very busy.

    • Everyone has things they are sensitive to. For example, I can’t tolerate the sound of someone clipping their nails. It is the degree to which these sensitivities affect your ability to function. My daughter is so auditory sensitive, she can’t eat in a restaurant without noise cancelling headphones on. It’s about the degree and intensity of the sensitivities.

  11. Ying Zhang says:

    I come from China,my son is diagnosed as SPD. recently I learned about the fact that autism has something to do with leaky gut,and I wonder how about SPD. Is it good for me to give my son some probiotics and what kind of probiotics do you recommend? Thank you very much

    • Ying, I don’t know much about probiotics so I can’t advise you with confidence. SPD can certainly be part of autism as can leaky gut. Does your son have an autism diagnosis? Is he having digestive problems?

    • Diane says:

      Hi Ying, there has been much study with probiotic and autism at The University of Reading and other Unis.  I think it definitely helps and give my daughter Biokult kids and Yakult.  She has done very well on Yakult.  If you want to chat I am on diholl03@yahoo.co.uk.  Good luck

  12. Margaret Varney says:

    My 4yr grandson has some characteristics which differs from his sister and cousins, he hates just even a spot of water on his clothes(mum has to change him soon as) his communication is a bit slower than his sister when she was his age, he has recently been punching himself  in the face for no apparent reason, he won’t interact in speech with strangers , it’s is near hand impossible for him to have his haircut also, do you or anyone think he should be checked by a paediatrician?

  13. Catherine says:

    This is a very misleading subject and very confusing for both clinicians and parents alike. I think it is a bit of a dis-service to call sensory differences a ‘sensory processing disorder’ as this has not yet been recognized as a diagnosable condition.

    • LT says:

      In some areas of the UK it is recognised we are in Scotland and my son has a “significant sensory processing disorder” diagnosis 

    • Jessica says:

      I am intrested to know where else SPD is diagnosed as a stand alone diagnosis please? I am in the USA and am having a horrible time finding proper education for my child who definitely has SPD not autistic and not ADHD it has been a trying and frustrating search for help.

    • SPD can stand alone but it is not recognized as an official diagnosis in the DSM which is the manual used by professionals for diagnosis. Have a look at the Star Institute’s website as they are doing some of the best work around SPD. https://www.spdstar.org/

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