Children who have sensory processing disorder find it hard to take in
the world around them. By Cynthia Ramnarace
Kiwi Magazine: Growing Families the Natural and Organic Way, January/February 2009
At first, Lisa Copen thought her then-2-year-old son, Josh, was just a high-spirited boy. So when she had trouble keeping up with his endless running and jumping, Copen initially blamed her rheumatoid arthritis.
But as Josh got older, his symptoms became more pronounced. In preschool he constantly leaned on other children and wanted to hold something in his hand at all times. During mealtimes he refused to eat anything but crunchy foods. “As a mom you think, ‘This
is just a phase’,” Copen says. “But then you’re around these mothers whose kids are eating tofu like it’s the best thing ever, and you start to wonder why your child is different.”
Copen searched for an answer. Autism screenings came back negative, and doctors advised against testing for ADHD until Josh was at least five. But when Copen read The Out-of-Sync Child, by Carol Kranowitz, she learned that kids with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) have difficulty organizing information from their senses into appropriate actions. Josh fit the description perfectly.
SPD is unrecognized by the American Psychiatric Association, despite the fact that it was first identified nearly 4o years ago. Today, occupational therapists receive training on the topic, and a movement is afoot to add SPD to the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual. Since many doctors (including Copen’s pediatrician) are not fully versed on the treatment of SPD, Josh goes to an occupational therapist to learn the skills he needs to cope with the disorder.
SPD can manifest itself in different ways. For kids who over-respond to sensational input, stimulation such as lights, noise and touch can be unbearable. On the other hand, under-responsive children (like Josh) crave constant stimulation.
In general, kids with SPD display “unusual responses to touch and movement,” says Carol Kranowitz, author of The Out-of-Sync Child. According to Kranowitz, these symptoms usually appear early in life. “Some babies don’t like being touched,” she says. “In other cases, the baby is into everything — he wants more touch and more movement. The child is often either avoiding movement or is only satisfied when moving.”
SPD can lead to motor and behavioral problems, failure in school, anxiety and depression. “Kids with SPD have low self-confidence,” says Kranowitz. “They say things like, ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I’m no good at that’ before they even try.” But therapy can help these children succeed at simple activities such as playing on a playground. “The whole attitude improves,” Kranowitz says. “Suddenly the child is saying, ‘I’m going to try that’ or ‘I’m good at that.’”
Treatment for SPD varies according to a child’s needs. Some kids go to occupational therapy in order to tolerate new foods or permit being touched by other people. For others, physical therapy helps improve balance and reduce clumsiness.
If parents suspect their child may have SPD, they should seek help right away. State departments of health offer early intervention services, and parents can find an SPD-trained therapist through the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, at www.spdfoundation.net.
SPD: A COMPLEX AFFLICTION
Sensory processing disorder affects how a person interprets information that’s delivered by the body’s senses. Here’s how the symptoms of SPD manifest themselves in various body systems.
THE TACTILE SYSTEM Some children are over-responsive to physical sensation and avoid being touched or touching new objects. Other kids want to touch everything — and with as much force as possible.
THE VESTIBULAR SYSTEM Children with SPD either love motion and are thrill-seekers who fidget constantly, or they dislike motion and may lose their balance easily and be generally clumsy.
THE PROPRIOCEPTIVE SYSTEM Children might deliberately crash into objects or constantly chew on pencils, shirt collars and toys. It is difficult for them to plan the necessary steps to complete an action, such as putting on a shirt.
THE VISUAL SYSETM Eye-strain headaches are common, as is moving the head instead of the eyes when reading. These kids also have trouble repeating patterns, such as in a block tower, or stringing beads on a thread.
THE AUDITORY SYSTEM Everything from loud, sudden noises to soft background music can be distressing. SPD kids are also easily distracted by other sounds they hear while trying to participate in a conversation.