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Sensory Processing Disorder

In honor of Autism Awareness Month and Occupational Therapy Month I am thrilled to feature a guest blogger. Dynisha King is an experienced OT and she graciously accepted my invitation to share her insights with us. So without further ado, I am handing it off to Ms. King.

Sensory Processing Disoder (SPD)! Like Quantum Physics, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is one of those topics that can be a bit complex to explain and or understand. Okay, so, maybe not that difficult. However, it is a disorder that many have developed misconceptions about or are simply unaware. I am a huge advocate of getting your information straight from the source, so I have included a link of an amazing kid named Niel, who eloquently documented what SPD not only looks like but what it feels like from within his body.

Just in case you didn’t watch the video because you thought, “ugh, it’s just way too long” or decided against clicking the link, I’ll aim to describe SPD concisely and less “science-y” as possible. (If you did watch it, please bear with me :)).

That amazingly intricate nervous system we all have, better known as the brain (and its partners) receives tons of information from our senses (touch, smell, taste, vision, auditory, proprioceptive, vestibular) throughout the day. It is their job to integrate all incoming messages from the outside world in exchange for an appropriate response, i.e., a behavior or an action, which is really the only part of the process we are able to physically see. All of our senses are interconnected, and our nervous system works tirelessly to create how we experience, interpret, and respond to different stimuli in our world. Annoyingly, when you stub your big toe, your brain receives the signal from that experience and registers it as pain. Pain is the stimulus and that “ouch!!” you bellow is a part of the appropriate response (FYI it’s also best to apply pressure to it immediately based on another neurophysiological theory, but I’ll save that for another post). In Sensory Processing Disorder, these signals may go undetected or are misinterpreted by one’s nervous system, and an inappropriate response is produced, causing significant dysfunction in one’s daily activities. In SPD, a person can either be under responsive, over responsive or sensitive to the information pulled in by the senses.

Although SPD is commonly seen with children who are on the Autism Spectrum, it is a stand alone disorder. In my experiences with providing Early intervention services to parents of children with SPD, some of their commonly reported concerns include: avoidance of eye contact, difficulty with following verbal instructions and or responding to his or her name, difficulty with transitions, constant movement, sensitivities to touch, smell, noises, etc. These behaviors can manifest differently over time and it is important to be aware of a child’s individual sensory needs as they grow. That way, the child receives the adequate amount of sensory input needed to help with rewiring their brains and it’s responses (also referred to as a sensory diet) to complete day to day tasks, such as riding the train or visiting the dentist.

It is necessary for moms, dads, caregivers, teachers, early childhood care providers and the likes, to be able to identify the signs of SPD because as in all things - early intervention is key! For a more comprehensive list of SPD symptoms please click here for a checklist that covers birth to adulthood.

If you’re concerned that your child shows signs of Sensory Processing Disorder, schedule a visit with your pediatrician to discuss having a comprehensive evaluation done by a team of specialists. These specialists include, but are not limited to speech language pathologists, physical therapists and occupational therapists (who specialize in sensory integration). General information and additional resources can be found on the STAR institute for Sensory Processing Disorder website

It is my hope that this was as informative as it was to write! I look forward to sharing additional tips and strategies on SPD with you! ;-)

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