Children are often a source of joy to the family. Their innocence and pure souls are refreshing for the whole household. Despite the happiness they bring, it is a known fact that rearing a child will require effort and tremendous hard work. As the saying goes, and true enough, it takes a village to raise a child.
Nowadays, there are common learning disorders associated with children. One of the underrated types is sensory processing disorder (SPD). In a study done in 2009, it suggested that one in every six children has sensory processing issues. Parents often observed signs and symptoms of a sensory processing disorder in their child during preschool years, but they might have shoved it aside as something ordinary or trivial when in fact, it was already associated with a progressing SPD. For instance, having an unusual sensitivity to sound and light, or being picky about their dress or clothes that are too itchy.
Jean Ayres, Ph.D. likens SPD to “a neurological traffic jam that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly.”
Teachers are also instrumental in data gathering for diagnosis of the disorder. Usually, children with sensory processing problems are a little awkward and having difficulty in performing complex motor movements. Teachers might comment on the temperament of the child and his/her tendency to display tantrums or meltdowns without any reason. Educators can also inform the parents that their child may have trouble processing the sensory information.
“What makes sensory processing disorder so difficult to understand is that it can look really different for each child and symptoms can be contradictory. Some children are hyper-responsive and over-reactive to their environment, some children are hypo-responsive leading them to seek increased sensory stimuli, and some children have a combination of over and under responsiveness,” Arielle Schwarts, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist, explains.
Treating Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) With Therapy
Treatment of the disorder will mean working with occupational therapists on various activities to hold the senses. Many of these therapists utilize the sensory integration approach. The approach starts in an environment that is controlled and stimulating, thus making the patient focus on managing activities of daily living.
“Behavioral treatments-such as gradually exposing a child to an offending sensory stimulus, or removing it from their environment – can help reduce anxiety,” noted Dr. Lauren O’Connell, M.D., a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center. “I think it ultimately depends on what is driving the symptoms.”
To encourage the participation of the patient, the therapist incorporates fun and exciting activities without necessarily flooding them or connecting stimulation to feelings of disappointment. The goal is to spread variously learned and proper responses whenever they are in different areas of the patient’s life like the school, family, and other persons.
For some patients, partnering therapy with alternative treatments might help in alleviating the symptoms of SPD. Despite its effectiveness, this holistic approach is not confirmed or backed up by research. Wilbarger protocol or brushing the extremities using a therabrush and craniosacral manipulation have been getting great feedback from parents and therapists.
Sensory organizing is a system intended to prioritize the patient’s needs and create an environment that maximizes the strengths and minimizes challenges. This includes arranging tasks and routines into short and straightforward steps that limit the exposure of the patient to sensory stimuli. For example, utilizing headphones to block loud noises and making stimuli less invasive, wearing loose clothing minus the laces and fancy trimmings to prevent scratching and feelings of itchiness. Children sometimes feel the intense glare of the sun. You can offer sunglasses for them to wear. Some children are sensitive to smell. Always bring a handkerchief to cover the nose or wear a mask to minimize the inhalation of malodorous stimuli.
SPD and Co-Morbid Conditions
When a person receives the diagnosis of SPD, it is also recommended that they are evaluated with other existing psychological conditions such as anxiety disorder, ADHD, or behavioral disorders.