Happy belated Mother’s Day to all of you mommas out there! I hope your families treated you all well and gave you a much deserved day off!
Today I have a post about SPD (sensory processing disorder) because I had an overwhelming interest from you guys about what it is. It’s hard condensing so much information into one post, so I apologize if it’s lengthy, but it’s easy to read and it will give you an insight into what SPD is, and what life might be like through the eyes of our kiddos (and adults alike).
I already vented a few weeks back so I will not link the post because I may delete it in the future. To those of you who read it and gave me feedback, thank you all so much! You guys have no idea how much your words meant to me at that time, I was in tears reading your lovely comments! But let’s start immediately!
CL was evaluated in the fall and we were informed that he scored significant for SPD. I personally don’t like calling it a disorder, so I usually refer to it as “sensory needs” or “my sensory child”. (NOT to be confused with Sensory Processing Sensitivity, or SPS. They are NOT the same thing..).
Anyway.. I hate to give the word “disorder” so much power, so I see my son as a regular kiddo who just has a hard time “taking the world in”.
What is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?
Sensory Processing Disorder is a neurological disorder in which the sensory information that the individual perceives results in abnormal responses.
Sensory processing refers to the nervous system, or the senses. People with SPD respond differently, and information gets mixed up in their brain. I like how A. Jean Ayres, Ph.D., occupational therapist and psychologist, likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly.
One thing I learned is that there are eight sensory systems rather than just the five that most of us are familiar with.
- Visual (sight)
- Auditory (sound)
- Tactile (touch)
- Olfactory (smell)
- Gustatory (taste)
- * Vestibular (body movements)
- * Proprioception (body awareness)
- * Interoception (internal state of the body)
It’s important to note that at least three-quarters of children with autistic spectrum disorders have significant symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder. However, the reverse is not true. Most children with SPD do not have an autistic spectrum disorder! Not understanding the difference can lead to SPD being misdiagnosed as autism or ADHD.
Let’s dive into each one for a better understading..
This sense helps interpret what we see through colors, shapes, letters, words, numbers, and lighting. . . People that have a hard time processing visual stimuli have a difficulty with organizing visual information. They have difficulty filtering out and distinguishing between necessary information and unnecessary information.
CL is aware of visual input/stimuli and he learns better with visuals. Here are the examples of visuals I have at home:
Basically they’re used to help him make better choices, to use his words, not push/run, to learn to share, and even has a feelings/emotions chart. Since he’s a visual learner, these tools have helped us tremendously.
Despite being a visual learner, he still has a hard time picking up cues from facial expressions and/or reactions. He will sometimes get distracted by other sights. It’s tricky but we’re working on it.
This sense functions to help us interpret what we hear and the frequency of a particular noise or noises. . . A person that has difficulty processing this stimuli has difficulty filtering out important auditory input, and background noise. This person will also have difficulty with attention, become easily startled, and need to be told directions repeatedly.
CL has difficulty processing this stimuli. He can hear well, we’ve done a hearing test, but I do have to call his name multiple times to get his attention, and he becomes easily distracted. It’s true that it’s hard for him to tune out background noise, even when I’m right in front of him. We have to lessen the stimuli by being in a quiet environment when we need his attention or simply to avoid a sensory meltdown.
He does need to be told directions repeatedly which is a difficult thing for me where safety is concerned. I’ve noticed when there’s a full class (more than 10 kids and their adults) he tends to have a harder time because it’s so loud and it can get pretty crowded, so there’s always a risk of over-stimulation.
The sense of touch aids in how we respond to physical stimuli through the receptors of our skin. . . A person who is struggling with tactile processing, may misinterpret light touch as negative and dangerous, when in fact there is no threat of safety. A person may become more anxious to this sense, and may respond with fight or flight response, and pull away when lightly touched on the shoulder.
This is a work-in-progress.
When his tactile system is under-stimulated, he “seeks” out touch; he will come around to hug me, poke me, squeeze me, he jumps and runs to feel pressure. When he’s over-stimulated, angry or frustrated, he HATES us touching him. We can’t even hold his hand. He will pull away, and again, it can become a safety concern because he tends to run away (flight response).
Clothing tags are also a problem. I literally have to cut them off because he gets so fixated on them and they’re itchy. He also suffers from eczema so when it flares up.. well.. Imagine how hard it must be for him.
The sense of smell is considered the oldest system in brain as it is connected to our memories and emotions. An input of smell could cause one to feel comfort or alarm, depending on the smell.
Smell doesn’t seem to affect him at all. Even so, just because smells don’t seem to bother him, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try and use calming scents like lavender, especially before bedtime to soothe and relax him.
The purpose of taste is to identify what kinds of foods a person likes, and what foods are dangerous or foods to stay away from. A person that has difficulty managing this sensation, will likely be a “picky eater,” and may have preferences not just to the taste but to the texture of the food.
Just as difficult as the auditory stimuli—CL has always been a picky eater, and I always believed in my mind it was because I breastfed until he was two. He doesn’t like squishy things, so eggs are no go. He barely likes sauces on his pastas so they have to be plain. Fruits and veggies he avoids like the plague, so I have to get creative.
The things he eats the most are mac and cheese, noodles, potatoes, cheese, chicken and some fish. We are slowly introducing more foods and having snack time at school may prove helpful. I hope that by seeing other kids trying new foods, he will follow their lead.
This sense is something that I am having a hard time dealing with on my own. It’s very hard to introduce foods when he refuses everything, and I’m not being consistent so that’s my fault. But we’re always so proud when he willingly tries something on his own, even if he does spit it out. It’s a step in the right direction.
The vestibular system functions to help the body maintain balance and be aware of where we are in space. This system works with auditory and visual processing in relation to balance, attention, eye control, and coordination.
At first I wasn’t sure if this was a difficulty for CL but it turns out it is. Children who are hypersensitive to vestibular input cannot handle movement, i.e.:
- Scared of playground equipment
- Doesn’t like to be turned upside-down
- Appears clumsy and uncoordinated
- Low muscle tone
- Often moves slowly and cautiously
- As a baby, does not like to be put on back or stomach
- Slouches, holds head up with hands
Whereas those who are under-sensitive (my son) are the exact opposite. They can tolerate a lot of movement before their brain registers that the body is moving:
- Impulsive behavior (jumping, running, and climbing)
- Needs to be in constant movement (rocking, swaying, spinning)
- Runs everywhere
- Prefers to be upside-down
- Appears to never be dizzy from spinning
CL LOOOVES to run, jump, climb, etc. He won’t sit still for more than 5 mins unless he has something to fidget. He will spin forever and will never be dizzy. He’s also so energetic, the running and jumping basically never stops.
Proprioception is very similar to the vestibular system. However, vestibular refers to how we determine where our whole body is in space, while the proprioception refers to how we interpret relationship and energy between each individual body part. . . They may seek out activities like jumping on furniture or grasping things tightly. They may have difficulty getting dressed, tying shoelaces, or knowing how hard/softly to open and close doors around the house.
This one is more present in my son because he seeks out physical activities. He jumps on the couches and bed and grips things tight (i.e. the dog). He’s doing so much better with getting dressed by himself, still working on shoelaces, but he does shut doors really hard.
Basically lots of things he does come off as aggressive. It’s not like he means to slam the door or hold the dog so tightly, he just can’t control that urge in him yet. We constantly have to catch him doing something right and praise him; like softly closing the door and gently petting the dog.
The newest and most recent discovered sensation as it comprises being aware of the basic primary functions such as hunger, toileting, and breathing. When a person has interoception difficulties they may not be aware of when they are hungry, thirsty, or need to go the bathroom.
He always seems to want to eat; he eats when he’s bored so he grazes. I try my best to keep him occupied and busy and keep a feeding schedule (as weird as it sounds);
- 8am breakfast
- 10:30am snack — coincides with snack time at school
- 12pm lunch
- 2pm snack
- 4pm dinner
- 6pm (last) snack
It can get hard when my husband gives in at random times or when CL isn’t hungry, but with consistency, he will get the hang of it.
In regards to toileting, he is fully potty trained but he does tend to “wait” when he needs to go, even when I ask him for the 10th time. He responds with “I don’t need to go” as he’s squirming. He’s really good at telling us when he’s thirsty so I’d say I understand this one the most and it’s the easiest to help him out with.
The speech delay makes this extra difficult I think because we can’t communicate properly with each other. He either doesn’t know the words or doesn’t understand the message we are trying to convey.
However, his speech has improved in just ONE year which makes me incredibly proud. The school setting seems to be helping him. He is picking up language from not just the teachers but from his peers and other parents.
Judgement from Others:
I mentioned in that ranty post that I felt as though people tend to judge a lot when they don’t understand the backstory. CL can come off as aggressive sometimes or not “well-behaved” as some have pointed out. That can be hard to deal with sometimes, especially when CL is having a difficult day.
I’m learning to not care what people think, but it takes time, practice, and patience. Even so, I’m grateful of the school program because he’s being exposed to real life situations which he might come across in kindergarten. I think the exposure he’s getting is healthy because there are plenty of adults there to help and everyone in there encourages the kids to talk about their feelings, to use their words, to explore more and be independent.
Once again, I apologize for the length of this post. It’s a lot of information that I’ve learned in the past 6 months or so. I’m grateful for all the resources I have available to help me connect and understand my son, and to support and guide him towards a successful, happy life and future.
I hope that this post gave you guys an insight into our lives. I want to reiterate that I’m not a perfect parent. I try the best I can with the tools and resources that are at my disposal, and I hope I can become the parent that my son needs. This journey will be hard for all of us, no doubt, but I believe that my son can overcome these obstacles and grow up to become a nice, young man.
I’m still learning a lot about SPD almost daily and how to help my son navigate the world, but I wouldn’t have been able to write this post for you guys without the following sources:
Child Mind | HS Person | CHLSS | Autism Awareness Center | SPD Star | InYard
Thanks so much for reading if you made it this far. And thanks so much for showing interest in our little family and for encouraging me to write about this because this affects our entire family, not just my son.
Thank you endlessly for always showing me support! I love you guys!