That itchy tag on a shirt, the sound of a ticking clock that you can’t not hear, the uncomfortable thing between your toes on flip flops; these can all be triggers for a person with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Most people picture these “over responders” when they think of kids who have SPD. They are the kids who may avoid loud places and noises, can be picky eaters or may experience motion sickness. However, there is another kind of SPD that often goes overlooked – the under-responsive SPD.
I never really thought about SPD until my own child was diagnosed as an under-responder about a year ago. As it has been explained to me by my son’s Occupational Therapist, these are kids who are not getting the same stimuli from their everyday life that a child with an intact sensory system would. Furthermore, there are actually two kinds of under-responders.
The first type of under-responder is a person who isn’t getting what he or she needs from the environment, yet is passive in his or her response. These are the “daydreamers.” As students, they are often left behind because they can’t process what they need fast enough. Still, there is a second type of under-responder. These children are not getting the input that they need from their environments, so they seek it out by running, jumping, falling, and being very physical in an attempt to get the balance, organization and focus that they need. These kids are often classified in schools as fidgety, unfocused and hyper. They may even be misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD.
There are many things that you can do if you notice signs that your child may be an under-responder. First, talk to your pediatrician, who will likely be able to recommend a qualified occupational therapist. There are many OTs in our area who are able to perform an assessment on your child that will help to clarify what his or her needs may be. OT can be an expensive option if not covered by insurance, but it’s a great start to get an assessment done. Then, you can ask for at home protocols that you can do with your child in lieu of weekly appointments.
Second, talk about it with other parents. According to this study, as many as 1 in 20 young children have SPD, and the number increases as kids get older. The more that we talk about it as parents, the more we can help our children and support one another.
Third, you can create a sensory diet for your child. This is not a food plan, but rather an activity plan that is carefully created to provide the sensory stimulation that a child needs. This may include OT protocols like dry brushing, joint compressions, exercises to strengthen the core, as well as modifications in school like sitting on a wobbly cushion or stool instead of a traditional chair.
Any time your child is diagnosed with something, it can be a scary thing. Knowing that I was not alone when it came to my son’s SPD made me feel a lot better. Reaching out to other moms at his school whose children were going through the same thing made me feel better too. We are in this together and doing what is best for our kids in order to allow them to lead their happiest lives.