Do you have a child who….
- fears automatic hand dryers, vacuums, and auto flush toilets?
- moves constantly but has little awareness of his body in relation to others?
- melts down if her pants are too scratchy, her socks are too tight, or her ponytail is askew?
- resists certain textures and flavors in food?
- keeps it together at school only to fall apart the moment you pick her up?
If so, your child may be one of an estimated 5-16% of children who suffers from Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).
As a mom, parent coach, and psychotherapist who specializes in Sensory Processing Disorder, I have heard many of these stories and more. For parents it feels as if they are being held hostage by their children’s emotional outbursts. Words like willful, manipulative, and defiant, are often used to characterize their children’s behavior.
When I hear those descriptors, I encourage parents to “try on new glasses” or in psychological parlance to “mentalize” their child. To “mentalize” someone is to put yourself in their shoes and to feel what they are feeling. Most importantly, it involves changing your perception of their behavior. When a parent’s perception of a child changes, the child’s behavior will change.
For a Sensory Sensitive Child, a temper tantrum is often the child’s best attempt at communicating that the input coming in from one or more of their eight senses is not tolerable for them. When willful becomes anxious, manipulative becomes helpless and defiant becomes frightened – your child’s behavior will change.
And how can we as parents change our perceptions? Education helps!
Start first by consulting with an occupational therapist who is SIPT (Sensory Integration and Praxis Test) certified or a mental health clinician who specializes in working with SPD. Complete a thorough evaluation to understand in which senses may your child be over- or under-responsive or sensory seeking. Share your child’s sensory profile with your child’s teacher to make sure his/her sensory needs are being met in the classroom. Work with an occupational therapist and mental health clinician to help your child develop the necessary body, mind, and emotional regulation skills so that they can not only cope with their sensory sensitivities but thrive.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder* (SPD)?
SPD is a neurophysiological condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through eight senses (auditory, gustatory, interoceptive, olfactory, proprioceptive, tactile, vestibular, visual).
– SPD is a chronic condition that is not outgrown
– The causes of SPD are both genetic and environmental
– 80% of those with autism have SPD but the two are distinct disorders
– In a study that looked at 925 caregivers of children ages 7-11, those with Sensory Over-Responsive children reported a higher frequency of internalizing (anxiety, depression), externalizing ( aggression, impulsivity) and dysregulating (trouble sleeping/eating) behaviors than those without Sensory Over-Responsivity.
* Also called Sensory Integration Dysfunction
- SPD Parenting Group – this educational support group for parents tackles a challenging topic monthly – click here to see when the next monthly meeting will be.
- www.spdfoundation.net – offers the most comprehensive research resource on SPD
- thespiralfoundation.org – great parent, physician and educator fact sheets
- What is Sensory Processing Disorder? – New York Times article from Sept 17, 2019
- Raising a Sensory Smart Child by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske
- Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight: What to Do If You are Sensory Defensive in an Overstimulating World by Sharon Heller
- The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz
- Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder by Lucy Jane Miller