19 November 2016

Confused About Sensory Processing Disorder?

You may be at the beginning of your journey and trying to work out whether there is something more going on with you child than just normal toddler tantrums, or episodes of screaming and crying for apparently no reason.

You may be well into your journey and have only just realised that Sensory Processing Disorder is a part of your child's profile.

You may even be reading this on the off chance and think wow, there maybe another reason to explain my Son/Daughters obvious discomfort with certain situations and that they aren't just being difficult, or naughty but that actually you can do something to really help and work out whats going on.

You may even think this is a load of rubbish and stop reading.

Well DON'T,  and ill tell you why.

Most people have sensory difficulties.

Whether they're diagnosed with it or not. Adult or child. Man or Woman, and learning about Sensory Processing Disorder will not only help you to understand about you're child's needs, and difficulties but it will also help you understand yourself and be able to make a difference to someones life.

Do you hate the feel of cotton wool in your hands? That sound when the teacher squeaks the pen on the whiteboard or the chalk on the blackboard is intolerable right? How about when you're eating  a nice meal and someone consistently scrapes their knife on the plate. Yes my hands are clenching even writing this. My worst sensory sensitivity is when my kitchen chairs scrape on the floor, 

It makes me want to jump around the place shaking my head until that sound leaves my memory forever,

Because it has such an effect on me that my mind replays it over and over again. My body cannot cope with that sound, it shuts down and i get very angry. Of course i didn't know that this was such an issue in my life until my daughter was diagnosed and i attended a Sensory Processing Disorder workshop, provided by the NHS. This workshop provided me the knowledge and understanding i needed to be able to help my daughter significantly.

So what is SPD and how do you deal with it?

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is  a neurological condition which affects the way that the brain organizes your senses (Touch, Smell, Movement, Vision, Smell, Taste, Sound, and body position.) 

When a person has good sensory integration they are able to process these senses automatically, but for our children and adults with SPD their brain struggles to organise them in the correct way and so they can become over-stimulated or under-stimulated causing them to become overwhelmed or appear uninterested and sometimes described as 'lazy'.

These people need a carefully planned out Sensory diet to help their bodies regulate their senses enabling them to live a happy and fulfilled life,  and to be able to have access to education and social integration appropriate, giving them the same opportunities and life experiences as their peers.

Some children can seek a certain stimuli, and some can avoid. The different Stimulus is detailed below.

  •  Proprioception - The sense of parts of the body when moving
Proprioception - The ability to know and understand where your body is in space. Its being aware of things around you, how far away they are, and being able to move around them without bumping into things. Its a sense of movement and body awareness.
  • Vision - All the input perceived by eyes including light/dark
Visual stimuli is the input we get from lights, different colours, visual movements, like bodies moving around a playground, or the TV.
  • Auditory - The sense of hearing
The auditory sense determines how and when we hear things, some people can hear things from very far away, or long before anyone else notices a certain sound like a lawn mower six gardens down or the sound of a siren miles away.
  • Tactile - Not just touch but also the feeling of temperature and pain
Tactile stimuli is not just the way that we feel things, but also our bodies telling us the temperature of things like a hot or cold bath, or wearing shorts in winter and no coat, and also the amount of pain felt when we hurt ourselves.
  • Olfactory - Sense of smell - Taste
The taste and smell sense can have a massive impact on your lifestyle, it can determine your diet in such a way that you may not get everything you need due to having such a limited diet. Some people may not like strong smelling foods for instance, or things that taste spicy, rich. A lot of children with SPD who are sensitive to smell and taste have a very limited diet. It also affects other things, life the certain smell of washing, or shampoo and soap. Brushing teeth can be a huge battle for people who are over sensitive to taste because they hate the taste of toothpaste.
  •  Vestibular - balance
The vestibular system is a collection of structures in your inner ear that provides you with your sense of balance and an awareness of your spatial orientation, meaning a sense of whether you are right-side up or upside-down. Your brain then integrates that information with other sensory information from your body to coordinate smooth and well-timed body movements. (Information taken from study.com) - Because actually I'm not that clever. However if you suffer keeping your vestibular system calm and organised you may seek out or avoid things like swings, or roller coasters, spinning in the middle of the room, You may have trouble sitting still and might fidget a lot, or get car sick easily.
  • Interoception - feelings inside the body, like feeling full after a big meal
This sense is very hard to identify and you will probably say "oh that's why she does that or that's why that happens to him" Because sometimes a child cant understand their own feelings let alone describe them to you. So you may find yourself wondering how someone so small can eat so much.

Kirsty Evans from Its All About Evie said that:

Evie is a sensory seeker and avoider. I have a handbag full of chews and tanglers. She's a destructive chewer so we choose toys based on the chew durability and whether she would choke on them. She loves to bounce and crash - it balances her out.

But then she hates noise unless it's her making it...we restrict where we go. No fireworks, no busy places, no music events, no parties. If we try these things they invariably fail, sometimes she copes for a short time and that is what we work towards. She loves to spin and doesn't get dizzy. That's quite incredible to see.

SPD is such an amazing thing. We have learnt so much and it makes lots of sense about her behaviors.

Lots of parents with children who suffer with SPD become detectives to try and find out whats actually causing such overwhelming difficulties for our children, we tend to stop going out, becoming confined to our own private safe place to avoid those extra sensitivities and try and determine what we can do to help before we once again try and live life. I know that that for me, i had reduce all stimuli for y daughter in order for her to be able to recognise what was causing her so much physical pain. Its then a challenge to try and re-integrate back into society slowly re - introducing those sensory inputs so that we can begin to tolerate them, using then a range of distractions, tools, and aids to help make life easier for the sensory seeker or avoider.

As described by Nikki Perrins from Sensory Sensitive Mummy, SPD can be quite challenging for children especially if they have the ability to mask their symptoms like Nikki's daughter and have extreme meltdowns at home due to sensory overloads. In this situation, there needs to be more done in the educational setting so that children have a way of releasing or chances to have more of a particular input to reduce the bottled up effect. Read more on my coke bottle analogy here.

Nikki said that:

My daughter is a huge sensory seeker, she will seek out activities such as messy play, the messier the better! She gets completely absorbed in these types of activities. She is an oral seeker and uses a necklace and bracelet that is safe to chew. My daughter is also a sensory avoider in terms of loud unexpected noises, for example, she prepares herself before I start hoovering by putting on some ear defenders. In terms of sensory overloads these are usually seen after a day at school as she will hold overloads in all day and release once she reaches home, she also experiences overloads in public places such as supermarkets, libraries and churches.

A brief description from Kelly Kemp from School Runs and Shopping Trolleys of her daughter -

My daughter is an oral sensory seeker too; we are currently going through dummies like nobody's business as she has one in constantly and tends to chew them. She won't entertain the idea of proper chew toys. She also craves salty flavours and will happily eat play dough, sand and loves to suck sea water from her hands.

- is very relevant for me and my children, they all like to chew things, hand, jumpers, chew toys, one of mine still had a dummy at 6 years old. She loves crunchy foods like cucumber and its very important to always have things like this to hand if you have a child that seeks this input.

Vailia Morrison describes her son EJ so very well, that you may as well have just skipped straight to this part. You can find more from Vailia here at The Inclusive Home

EJ has extreme sensory processing disorder (if that's a thing?).
We think her sensory processing is the key to her overall developmental delay (around 18 months cognition at 6 years old), in that she has CVI, auditory processing issues, tactile issues (this is much improved), loves all vestibular stimulating activities (swinging, spinning, bouncing etc!)! Her sensory processing issues also extend to processing of pain, which is our biggest challenge, and worry, as we don't always know when she's poorly or hurt, as there is either a delay in her reaction or no reaction at all. 

To find out how Sensory Processing affects my daughter on a daily basis pop back and have a read next Saturday. I will be sharing tips, and ideas for home and school and some files that i have found most helpful when learning about Sensory Processing Disorder.

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  1. Such a great post :) Wonderfully written and thank you so much for sharing our experiences :)

  2. thank you nikki xx

  3. It's so bizarre isn't it sometimes. The boys crave loud music but cover their ears when the kettle goes. Will squeeze me till I can't breath and then not want to be touched. Great post - thank you #postsfromtheheart

  4. Anonymous28/1/17 15:01

    A great insight into sensory processing disorder. I only heard about it when my son was first being diagnosed for autism, and now I can see how many people around me have sensory issues. Before I just didn't know it was a thing. #postsfromtheheart

  5. This is such an important area and one which is so often overlooked. I'm sure your post will help many parents, both those with children who have a diagnosis and those with children who haven't. Thank you for writing it and thank you for sharing it with us here at #PostsFromTheHeart