Identifying whether your child has a sensory processing disorder can be as simple as noticing that they have a major aversion to wearing highly textured clothing or an oversensitivity to being touched to more subtle signs like trouble staying asleep at night.
Either way, in the early formative years, children are often overwhelmed with a myriad of sensory experiences. And, while most children navigate their environment effortlessly, there are those who struggle due to sensory processing issues.
Sensory processing disorder (SPD) affects how our brains process sensory stimuli
from the things we see, hear, smell, taste, or touch. The disorder can also cause
an opposite effect, where it takes more stimuli to impact the child.
Sensory processing disorders can impede development, disrupt daily activities, and hinder a child’s ability to learn effectively. Recognizing and understanding sensory red flags is crucial for parents and teachers to provide appropriate support and to help children thrive at home and in school.
Let’s start with some interesting research about sensory processing issues.
According to a study conducted by A. Ben-Sasson et al. (2009), sensory processing issues affect up to 16% of school-aged children. The study emphasized that sensory processing difficulties can manifest in various ways, including over- or under-responsive reactions to sensory stimuli, and can significantly impact children’s daily routines and learning experiences.
A report by Christiana Butera, Pricilla Ring, John Sideris, Aditya Jayashankar, Emily Kilroy, Laura Harrison, Sharon Cermak, and Lisa Aziz-Zadeh (2020) highlighted that children with sensory processing issues often encounter challenges related to attention, social interaction, emotional regulation, and academic performance. It reinforced the notion that early identification and intervention are crucial for improving outcomes in affected children.
A study conducted by S. S. Engel-Yeger et al. (2013) explored the relationship between sensory processing difficulties and motor skills in children. The findings demonstrated a strong correlation, suggesting that sensory challenges can directly impact motor development and coordination in children.
SENSORY SEEKING AND SENSORY AVOIDANCE SYMPTOMS
Some typical behaviors or symptoms of children with sensory processing disorders include diving headlong into a full range of sensory stimuli only to become overwhelmed and distressed leading to avoiding all sensory experiences.
Sensory Seeking Children
- Chew non-food items
- Scratch or pick their skin
- Eat or drink too fast
- Demonstrate excessive head-banging
- Desire to jump off high things
Sensory Avoiding Children
- Push away from physical touch
- Run away from challenges
- Often cry or are irritable
- Trouble with bright lights or loud sounds
- Food textures make them gag
Medical professionals don’t agree when it comes to what causes SPD. Some researchers believe there could be a link between autism and SPD, but please note that most children who have sensory processing disorders do not have autism. However, kids with sensory issues do tend to have other diagnoses, such as ADHD, anxiety, and PTSD from abuse.
SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER TREATMENTS AND TIPS
- If you suspect your child is experiencing sensory challenges, consult with an occupational therapist specializing in sensory processing disorder. The purpose of an evaluation is to consider how your child’s nervous system responds to sensory stimuli through the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. After the assessment, the occupational therapist can provide recommendations tailored to your child’s specific needs.
- Create sensory-friendly environments: This is as simple as providing a quiet corner for relaxation that includes weighted blankets and fidget toys to aid in self-regulation.
- Establish consistent routines: The predictability of a routine gives children a sense of security. This is best done by displaying a daily schedule with strong visual cues like photos, graphics, or other symbols, so children can see at a glance what is expected next.
- Introduce sensory breaks: Regular sensory breaks throughout the day, especially during challenging tasks, give children a chance to reset their sensory systems. Suggested activities include swinging or jumping on a mini-tramp.
- Work with teachers and school staff: Consistent communication between parents, teachers, and other school resource workers is a must. Don’t hesitate to share information about the child’s sensory challenges, strategies, and needed accommodations.
TRY A SENSORY DIET
A sensory diet is an excellent supplement to other sensory processing disorder therapies. Please note that a sensory diet isn’t a food diet. It is a list of sensory activities to practice at home and school. These activities are designed to help your child stay focused and organized during the day. Some ideas include:
- Access to fidget toys
- Listening to music on headphones while working
- A 10-minute walk for every hour of school/homework
- Time to swing for 10 minutes every day
Recognizing and addressing sensory red flags in children is essential for their overall development and well-being. Being aware of the research findings related to sensory challenges in children and implementing practical ideas to support them, can create an environment that fosters growth, enhances learning experiences, and allows students to reach their fullest potential.