Tuesday, March 2, 2010

12 Ways to Identify a Potential Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) in Your Child

I'm sometimes puzzled, or even embarrassed about my child's unusual behavior. Mostly, he seems "normal".  I don't think there's anything wrong with him, but I'm not sure what to do about it.  
Do you ever feel this way? Explore the possibility that your instincts are correct - that your child may need your help.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?
Sensory Processing Disorder is, essentially, what it is named: difficulty or inability of the brain to effectively process the information obtained through the senses.  The disability manifests itself in different ways; some individuals experiencing over (hyper) sensitivity to some sensations, and others experience under-responsivity to sensory experience.  Ms. Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A., author of “The Out-of-Sync Child”, defines SPD as not being one specific disorder; rather, an umbrella term to cover a variety of neurological disabilities.  Other commonly used names for SPD are Dysfunction of Sensory Integration (DSI), Sensory Integration Dysfunction, and Sensory Integration Disorder.
The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder, Revised Edition

The sensory input a person receives is generally through our five main senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, sound.  But there are two additional senses the brain uses for information that are affected by SPD:  the proprioceptive, which tells us what position our body is (sitting, standing, arms bent), and the vestibular, which helps us to know our place in relation to surroundings (to avoid walking into a pole approaching, or duck under a branch).

A child with SPD may experience sensory input differently.  An under-responsive child, for instance, may often crash or bump into things, or seek foods with more intense flavors, because a light touch or taste is not as detectable. Conversely, an over-responsive child may seek foods that are bland, or avoid touch or eye contact with others altogether, because it is too stimulating.  And, in the most complicated cases, a child may experience both under and over responsivity,  in inconsistent areas. 
The checklist below is in no way a means to diagnose SPD (sensory processing disorder) in your child.  It is merely a starting point to determine if - based on how you feel about the next 10 statements – it would be a good idea to do some more research and possibly have your child evaluated.  As is true with many conditions, the key to success in your child’s life is early intervention, so the time to act is NOW!  The earlier your child receives the supports he needs for this complex condition, the more likely he is able to overcome his obstacles and be a successfully functioning, happy child and adult.
Consider these 12 Statements.  My Child:

  1. Often avoids touch or being touched by objects or people, including things like tags on clothing, hugs or kisses, and/or certain textures of food.  
  2. Is no longer a baby, but often chews or mouths inappropriate items or toys ; like jackets, legos,  playdoh,  matchbox cars, doll’s limbs, and/or occasionally bites objects or people
  3. Appears disturbed by participating in movements other children enjoy   – such as a see-saw,  swing;  or conversely,  wants to spin wildy on a swing or merry-go-round like ride, seemingly with no dizziness
  4. Wants to play alone rather than with other children; or conversely, interacts inappropriately with new children- i.e., hugging, attempting to kiss, banging into, etc.
  5. Frequently walks into things, trips, or doesn’t seem to notice people or objects when on a mission for a task.
  6. Doesn’t speak clearly, speaks too loudly, too softly, or has speech delays
  7. Loves to be tickled, squeezed, hugged, or seeks vigorous contact or activities, heavy work and stimulation
  8. Parents often find themselves making excuses for unusual or idiosyncratic behavior (i.e., “she’s second-born, so she’s not speaking as clearly yet because her sister talks so much”, or “he’s  overtired, that’s why he doesn’t want to be at the party”
  9. Covers ears or eyes to block out certain noises or sights, sometimes that appear to be inexplicable to others.  Has poor eye contact with others, even parents and loved ones.
  10. Frequently Falls, bumps into things, spills, drops things, or appears a bit clumsy compared to other children his age.
  11. Describes a place to be scary – seemingly a place where other children are content.
  12. Seems overwhelmed by new tasks – such as dressing, using utensils, trying a new sport, etc.
If you’ve read through this checklist and find yourself nodding your head, or getting a nervous feeling – don’t be alarmed quite yet.  One or a few of these may apply to any child with average sensory processing abilities.  Some of us, even as adults, don’t like crowds, or perhaps we talk louder than the average person.  However, if more than a few of the above statements apply to your child consistently, and are troublesome or interfere with daily life in any way- I would recommend you at least have him or her evaluated. 
As a parent, (myself included), you may want to stick your head in the sand, and think your child will grow out of any conditions that appear to be “different” than their peers or siblings.  But if your child is experiencing sensory processing disorder, she could be significantly more uncomfortable in daily situations than you may realize.  A child with SPD will benefit greatly from therapies that are often provided by programs through your county or state if she qualifies.  Parents that choose to ignore SPD in their children could be doing them a great disservice for themselves and their child, resulting in their child’s poor self-esteem and future learning disabilities and/or depression.

It's important to mention that SPD is sometimes an independent condition. But often, it  is present with  with other disorders,  such as autism, or ADD/ADHD.  Just because your child may have a sensory integration disorder, does not mean that your child has autism; nor does a child with ADD necessarily have SPD.  And, if your child has SPD, it does not mean that he will have learning disabilities. These disabilities are all independent conditions; but may sometimes overlap.  Differences will be discussed in future articles.

Many school districts, county and state programs provide FREE testing and evaluation by wonderful professionals who handle a large spectrum of difficulties in young children.  I urge you to pursue this, as difficult as it may be – perhaps beginning with any speech delays you may notice.  This is how I got started with my child, and it was the best thing I could have ever done for him.  Had I not made an initial phone call to the county health department for the early intervention program for 2-1/2 year olds, I may never have known about SPD.  I am so grateful having this knowledge – and can see significant positive results in my own child from his therapies.  Be brave, and be an advocate for your sensational child!

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