As the mom of a kiddo with Sensory Processing Disorder, I still fumble sometimes on that “elevator speech” about how you describe SPD. I’ve finally gotten it down to – “Sensory Processing Disorder is when a child’s body misreads the sensory signals he’s getting, often overreacting or under reacting to his surroundings.” Usually the conversation branches out from there.
The fact is many people just don’t understand the foundation of what sensory processing is. Today, I’m welcoming Natasha Daniels, a child therapist and author of the upcoming book How to Parent an Anxious Toddler (affiliate link), to explain the basics of just what sensory processing is.
What is sensory processing?
What is sensory processing? In my world of child therapy and blog writing – I have made an incorrect assumption that everyone knows and understands sensory processing issues. I am reminded weekly in my therapy sessions with parents that this is not the case and that parents often feel lost and confused around this topic. For those parents I work with and all the parents out there in the sea of confusion – I have written this for you!Sensory processing can be confusing. Here are the basics broken down. #sensory #autism Click To Tweet
Here are the basics broken down. Sensory processing has to do with how children take in their world through their senses. Children on the Autistic spectrum or those that have anxiety are more prone to having sensory processing issues, but anyone can have these struggles. An emotionally sensitive child can be more physically sensitive as well. Children can be too sensitive (hypersensitivities) or not sensitive enough (hyposensitivities). Many children have both of these issues – depending on what sensory input you are talking about.
Sensory Processing Basics Broken Down
TOUCH (fancy word: Tactile defensiveness)
Some children feel more than other children. They feel those sock seams, those tags, those boo boos and tight shoes more than other children. They can’t wear certain clothes and tend to not like jeans. They are more sensitive to the temperature of their body, their food and their bath water. They are more sensitive about combing, washing and styling their hair.
MOUTH (fancy word: Oral)
This can be quite a scary and debilitating issue. Some children are overly sensitive to the taste, texture and pressure of foods in their mouth. They might gag when having mixed textures (e.g. yogurt with fruit in it) or only want to eat bland foods. They may not like the feel of food in their mouth. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some children need to keep their mouths constantly stimulated and like to chew on everything and anything around them. They might drool and stuff their food into their cheeks when they eat. They might chew on their shirts and on their toys.
SMELL (fancy word: Olfactory)
These children have – what I like to call – supersonic noses. They can smell everything more intensely and often this is not a good thing. They get overwhelmed with smells and might want to avoid restaurants or other environments where the smell is too pronounced.
HEARING (fancy word: Auditory processing)
Some children have supersonic hearing. They hear sounds louder than the rest of us. These children will often cover their ears when the rest of us are just fine. They get startled by noises and will often want to avoid loud places like fireworks, movies and concerts. Even mundane noises like the vacuum, garbage disposal and dryer can cause distress for these children.
MOVEMENT (fancy word: Proprioceptive dysfunction)
This category can be very confusing. These children have a hard time planning where they are going (motor planning). They can appear clumsy, accident prone and uncoordinated. They might have poor posture or seem “floppy.” Some children might bump into things, play too hard with toys and want to wear tight clothing.
BALANCE/SENSE OF MOVEMENT (fancy word: Vestibular)
These children may not like to be hung upside down or to be spun around. They may not like being backwards in cars or going on fast rides at amusement parks. They might have weak stomachs and get motion sickness more often.
It is important to remember that these children truly feel these sensations more intensely than the rest of us and they need our patience and understanding. This is by far not a comprehensive or detailed explanation of Sensory Processing Disorder. My hope is that this article will provide you with a quick explanation of a very common issue.
Read Jenny’s personal journey parenting a kiddo with Sensory Processing Disorder and her own tips!
About Natasha: Natasha Daniels is a child therapist and toddler mental health specialist. She obtained her post-graduate training at The Harris Institute for Infant Mental Health, but her three children have taught her the most valuable lessons! Natasha splits her time between her private practice and her writing. You can read more from Natasha on her site Anxious Toddlers.
Read Natasha’s book!
Find more articles and stories touching on special needs in my Voices of Special Needs series.