So now your child has a diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or you know they have sensory issues, so what do you do? While there are no medications to treat SPD, there are therapies that can help. Although SPD is often associated children with Autism and ADHD, not all children with SPD are on the Autism spectrum.
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SPD means that your child’s brain has a hard time taking in and responding to sensory based information. Previously called a sensory integration dysfunction, it is not considered a distinct medical diagnosis which can be difficult for parents.
Children with SPD can have developmental difficulties, such as speech delays, because their sensory conditions impact their ability to focus. However, parents should keep in mind these deficits can often be overcome with the proper treatment.
One sign of SPD is that a child is overwhelmed and loses control when in a loud or overcrowded space.
While no official DSM diagnosis exists, experts agree that the signs of SPD include over and under sensitivity to information one receives through their senses. For example, a child with SPD may have trouble with noise or touch sensitivity or they may display a need for deep muscle pressure. Additionally, research shows that SPD is relatively common with 16 percent of 7 to 11 year olds displaying symptoms of SPD.
Once your child is identified as having sensory processing issues or SPD, you should seek treatment and support from professionals, as this will support the nervous system in regulating the multi-sensory information it receives. Typically, children with SPD or sensory processing disabilities get support at school or privately from an occupational therapist or psychologist.
Occupational therapists engage kids in physical activities that are designed to regulate their sensory input. Psychologists can provide psychoeducation along with social, behavioral, and emotional support.
Occupational therapists directly train and support to children (and adults) with sensory processing problems. They provide activities that directly remediate the common challenges associated with SPD. The goal of OT is to develop appropriate body responses to sensations in an active, meaningful, and engaging way so the child is able to learn how to act in a more functional manner at home and school. With therapy over time, the appropriate behavior generalizes to environments beyond therapy sessions, including home, school, and in the community. Interventions can include involving the skilled use of sensory and motor treatment activities and equipment as well as engagement in activities that provide increased tactile, proprioceptive, and movement opportunities.
In addition, they also provide accommodations and adaptations at work and school called sensory diet programs. Sensory diet programs involve a daily routine with a menu of individualized, supportive sensory strategies (e.g., rocking chair, quiet space, aromatherapy, weighted blanket), identified physical activities (e.g., yoga, swimming) and materials (e.g., sensory kits containing music, stress balls, items for distraction).This allows the child to appropriately use their senses to take in and organize sensory information for success in everyday activities.
Psychologists can offer clinical counseling for the child and parent coaching, as well as psychoeducation around SPD and sensory needs. Children with SPD have difficulty with regulating emotions, which can impact all facets of child’s life including learning and social functioning. A psychologist can guide kids by teaching them how to cope, self-regulate, and use strategies is key for managing the symptoms in a positive way. Parents are big part of that because they need the tools to coach their sensory processing challenged child. Children with SPD experience more challenges with attention, mood, anxiety, executive functioning, learning, and just following directions. Having an experienced pediatric psychotherapist on your team to help with evaluation can go a long way in more effectively getting to the heart of issue with the right tools and behavior management. This of course helps your sensory challenged child and preserves your sanity.
A plan to support sensory needs is referred to as a “sensory diet”. A sensory diet is a group of activities that are specifically scheduled into a child’s day, both at home and school, to support attention, arousal and adaptive responses. A sensory diet can be very useful with helping a child alert to and follow through with learning activities.
Specific to each child’s sensory needs, the activities are chosen based on what type of input they need. The use of specific types of input; proprioceptive, tactile, visual auditory, vestibular, gustatory, and oral motor are introduced during various times of the day and assist the brain in regulating attention and foster an appropriate level of arousal.
Many children with SPD receive occupational therapy at school and also have accommodations to support their sensory needs within the classroom. A plan to support sensory needs or a sensory diet is often put into place at school so a child can learn to process sensory information more adequately in order to get a more functional response. Depending on what type of sensory input they need, the foundation of the plan comes with common classroom accommodations.
Oral Motor Input:
The best thing you can do for child with sensory processing issues at home is to be proactive and avoid triggers. Ask your OT for home-based sensory diet plan and try follow it. Supporting your child as young as possible, can help the nervous system mature and deal with sensory impairment in a more appropriate manner, which means a happier, healthier child and family.
Suggestions for supporting a child with sensory processing issues or SPD at home:
Over time children with sensory issues do improve when given the right support. Creating the right program and being consistent and calm can go a long way to helping your child achieve wellness.
If you think your child might have SPD, contact a doctor. Early intervention and care can help alleviate the anxiety that living with SPD creates.
To make an appointment with Dr. Roseann or one of our clinicians 203.438.4848 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Roseann is a Psychologist who works with children, adults, and families from all over the US, supporting them with research-based and holistic therapies that are bridged with neuroscience. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and is a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS) and Epidemic Answers. She is also a member of the American Psychological Association (APA), National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), Connecticut Counseling Association (CCA), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).
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