Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Not Your Typical Child Tuesday #2

Today we're going to address something called Sensory Processing Disorder. This is usually the main "symptom" of autism or Asperger's that most people see right off the bat. This does not encompass the whole definition of autism, nor does it mean that you have to have autism to have it.

Sensory Processing Disorder, from the purpose of this post, will be referred to as SPD. SPD like autism, is a spectrum disorder, and no two kiddos that have it are alike. I happen to have two kiddos with it and neither of them have this disorder in any similar function! SPD is a disorder where the  nervous system doesn't function or communicate properly with the senses of the body. I could go into depth on this but, this is the gist of it. You basically cannot process what your senses are telling you properly. Now, if you think about this, that can manifest in many ways! As I write this article, please know that there are so many different ways and combinations that it can show up in a person that I could not possibly include them all here. I will most likely include the ones that are personal to me and my boys.

When one thinks of senses, they generally think sight, sound, hearing, touch and taste. In actuality there are EIGHT senses! Yes, I know how to count! :D I know we all get the idea of the first five senses, so here's some brief info on the 3 you probably don't know about.

Vestibular is your sense of balance basically. It tells you if you're lying down, spinning, jumping, etc.
Interoception, this is how your body knows it's hungry, if it has to go to the bathroom or even if you're sick.
Proprioception, is the feeling in your joints and muscles that tells you when you're getting squeezed, catching a ball, etc.

Everyone has some sensory issue(s) but, some of us out there, have it to such a degree it impacts daily life! For example, my son had a HUGE aversion to the color white. If you were wearing it, he would start shrieking and carrying on. Socks may be an issue for a child with SPD. I know when I was a child, my mother and I seriously, physically fought over putting socks on my feet. To this day, I avoid wearing them at all costs. Why would one carry on like that over socks? I can't speak for other people and my boys don't seem to have this issue but, for me, the seam feels like a bunch of razor blades on my toes. To this day, the fastest way to get me really upset, really fast, is when my socks are not on right! :P For other kiddos and adults, it could be sounds. Some are set off by repetition of sounds, for some it's the pitch of the sound, for others, it's just sound in general. My HARD OF HEARING child would often times (And still does), cover his ears, yelling that we were all too loud! Let me tell you, nothing is harder to wrap your brain around than this! For others it's not being able to wear short leaves or only wearing short sleaves. Same goes for shorts and jeans as well. Don't get me started on oral issues...you think a neuro-typical child is a picky eater? Wait until you meet a child with SPD! Most with oral issues that I've met cannot eat mashed potatoes! No matter how watered down you make them! The choke and gag and you cannot figure out why! Some oral issues include licking or mouthing strange objects or continued mouthing, chewing or licking of objects, that is past the baby/toddler stage. For example, that piece of metal that normally separates hard wood floors from carpeting, chair legs, another person's clothes, Legos (not fun when they accidentally swallow them and they were to some cool set that you can't buy anymore!) and even their fingers or clothes are not safe! My nephew is the clothes chewer, he chews holes in his sleeves and collars. Drove my little sis nuts until I told her that he probably couldn't help it. Maybe it's none of these and simple things, like smells. Specifically normal smells, like the smell of fresh peeled oranges that sets a child off! Yes, one of my kiddos had this problem too! My oldest nephew though, swears his food smells and tastes different when the windows are open and it's chilly out. We don't notice this but, my son says he can smell the difference between hold and cold things too! So, who am I to argue! :) This covered sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell. On to the next three senses....

Proprioception manifests in ways like, your child can't stop jumping. Jumping on the floor, the couch, the bed, etc. He/She is a crasher. Meaning they're continually crashing HARD into you, walls, furniture, anyone else in close proximity! It's been joyously painful having two crashers! lol If your child had a vestibular dysfunction, they'd have a hard time staying upright a lot of time either because their balance would seem compromised or they don't seem to know where their body is in relation to anyone or anything else. If your child had interoception issues, they'd seem to forget to be hungry or eat period. Or maybe potting training was excruciating long because they didn't seem to know when they needed to go! (This is a fun one, especially with all the well meaning potty training advice friends, family and strangers seem to love to dole out!)

There really is no one size fits all diagnosis for SPD. In fact, a lot of kids may get diagnosed with ADHD because of their SPD! Especially if they have SPD and APD (auditory processing disorder). SPD can get overlooked a lot when the child has other neurological issues as well. For example, I know a lot of people who have TS (Tourette Syndrome) also have SPD but, because of either severity of tics or other neurological issues, the sensory issues will get overlooked.

If any of this sounds like a child that you know, here's a great checklist on line to investigate and see if they are just normal or if maybe you should contact an Occupational Therapist. If it's you or a teen you're curious about where they stand, here is the checklist for you. Again, for a firm diagnosis, you'll need to visit an OT to be evaluated for sure but, those lists will give you an idea of where you stand. With an OT and the benefit of proper therapy, they are doing the best they can to help, teach and rewire how our children's brains function - without drugs. Over time they can go from having to eat pizza with a fork to being able to eat with their fingers! Or from screaming at bath times or when they get to wet, to calmly being able to tell you that they need to change their clothes or being able to take baths without incident! It may take some time, it's not an instant fix but, the results can reduce you to tears! :)

If you're newly diagnosed person or family, a great place for info though is SPD Foundation, they are awesome every October for SPD Awareness month at helping you start a campaign to do locally! If you're looking for others out there like yourself, the SPD Blogger Network is filled with all sorts of great bloggers who share their experiences parenting kiddos with SPD. There is a great community on FB called SPD Connect, and another page on there run by my dearest friend Ida, called Sensory Street. She will share every resource, and avenue she finds that you can try to help your child. There is Sensory Planet with an accompanying FB page. There are also many, many groups on FB just for SPD in general. Including Autistic Like. I've never seen the full movie yet but, he's one of the few fathers whose been at the forefront of the fight for their children. I'm behind Eric 110%!

For books, I have to recommend my friend Lindsey Biel's book, Raising A Sensory Smart Child first. Lindsey is an OT, so she knows her stuff and did I mention that like Ida, she's a really sweet woman; truly an awesome resource to have! She also has a site and FB page too! Another great set of books comes from Carol Kranowitz. One is called, The Out Of Sync Child and the other one is The Out of Sync Child Has Fun. The first book is on recognizing and understanding a bit about your child and SPD and the second is all about some fun things you can do at home to help your child adapt, learn and evolve through play. Another couple of good books is This is Gabriel: Making Sense of School by a wonderful lady, Hartley Steiner. Our fearless leader behind the SPD Blogger Network. She also put together a book by many of us SPD mothers, called Sensational Journeys. Filled with stories from lots of us mothers about having two kiddos with SPD, having premies, etc. All heart warming and told by real moms about their experiences, myself included! I would be remiss if I did not include Ms. Lucy Jane Miller's book, Sensational Kids: Hope for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder.

There are a lot of resources out there now. A ton more than a decade ago. There is no reason to feel alone, no matter who doesn't understand in your neighborhood, your child's school, your friends, families, etc. You are not alone and your child is as unique and beautiful as a snowflake, never forget it! And if you're that lady or guy in the grocery store giving the evil eye to the mom whose child is screaming his head off, think twice about what you're doing. They may not be able to help it! 


  1. Em, I really enjoyed reading this and learning about SPD. I never knew what some of the symptoms were. I appreciate you taking the time to help us be more aware and educating people like me! :-)

  2. Aww, much love Tara! <3 Thanks for the support, means a lot dear friend.