Sensory Processing Disorder – Toddlers

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

Sensory Processing Disorder

What is it?
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Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) used to be called Sensory Integration (DSI) Dysfunction.  It causes sensory signals to not get organized into appropriate motor responses and behaviors when the sensory messages are received by the nervous system.  In other words, the sensory messages are misinterpreted by the nervous system.

A study done by the SPD Foundation found that 5% to 10% of children without other disabilities experience SPD while it is prevalent in 40% to 88% of children with various other disabilities.  It is believed that there may be a relationship between Sensory Processing Disorder and the atypical behaviors associated with pervasive developmental disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Fragile X Syndrome, and Cerebral Palsy.

The study also found that while symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder overlap with other conditions, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in particular, the empirical data in the study proves that the two conditions are completely distinct from each other.

Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) p. 249 – 250 by Lucy Jane Miller, PhD, OTR lists ten research-supported statements about SPD:

  1. It is a complex disorder of the brain affecting both adults and developing children.
  2. Tools used to identify children with the disorder include: parent surveys, clinical assessments, and laboratory protocols.
  3. The prevalence of SPD in the general population is at least 1 in 20 people.
  4. The occurrence of SPD in children who are gifted and those with ADHD, Autism, and fragile X syndrome is much higher than that of the rest of the general population.
  5. A significant difference has been found between the physiology of typically developing children and those with SPD.
  6. Likewise, a significant difference has ben found between the physiology of children with ADHD and those with SPD.
  7. The disorder has unique sensory symptoms unexplained by other known disorders.
  8. Heredity could be one cause of the disorder.
  9. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems of children with SPD are not functioning typically, according to laboratory studies.
  10. The theory that Occupational Therapy is an effective intervention for treating SPD symptoms is supported by preliminary research data and decades of anecdotal evidence.

 

Symptoms of SPD

Much like other developmental disabilities, the symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder vary from person to person, as well as age group.  A person may experience only some symptoms and at varying intensities.  Additionally, symptoms tend to vary by age group:

Infants & Toddlers:

  • Difficulty eating
  • Refusal to go to people other than parents
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Discomfort in clothing
  • Lack of toy play
  • Difficulty shifting from one activity to another (Resistance to change)
  • Slow to respond to pain or injury
  • Resistant to physical affection or cuddling
  • Unable to calm self with pacifier, toys, etc.
  • Poor balance or clumsiness
  • Little or no babbling or vocalizing
  • Easily startled
  • Extremely active (constantly moving)
  • Delays crawling, standing, walking or running

Pre-Schoolers:

  • Difficulty potty training
  • Overreacts or overly sensitive to stimulation (touch, nose, smells, tastes, etc.)
  • Unaware of being touched or bumped
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills (fastening buttons, using crayons, eating with utensils, etc.)
  • Clumsy and awkward (unsure how to move body in relation to space)
  • In constant motion
  • Touches everything around them
  • Gets in other people’s personal space
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Overly aggressive or passive and withdrawn
  • Difficulty with transition
  • Difficult to calm, intense
  • Unexpected temper tantrums or mood changes
  • Seems inappropriately weak, slumps or slouches
  • Speech is difficult to understand
  • Difficulty understanding verbal instructions

School Age:

  • Overly sensitive to stimulation (touch, noise, smells, taste, etc.)
  • Easily distracted in the classroom
  • Fidgety or squirmy, in constant motion
  • Easily overwhelmed in social settings (Recess, playground, classroom, etc.)
  • Slow to perform tasks
  • Difficulty with motor tasks (handwriting, tying shoes, etc.)
  • Clumsy, stumbles often, slouches
  • Craves wrestling and rough housing
  • Slow to learn new activities
  • Difficulty making friends (overly aggressive or passive/withdrawn)
  • Hyper-focuses on one task, difficulty transitioning
  • Confuses similar sounding words (misinterprets questions/requests)
  • Difficulty reading (especially out loud)
  • Stumbles with words, speech lacks fluency, hesitant rhythm

Adolescence & Adulthood:

  • Over-sensitive to environmental stimulation (not liking to be touched)
  • Avoids visually stimulating environments and/or sensitivity to sounds
  • Slow and/or lethargic starting the day
  • Often begins new tasks at one time and leaves many unfinished
  • Uses inappropriate amount of force handling objects
  • Clumsy, bumps into things, unexplained bruises
  • Difficulty learning new motor tasks or sequencing steps of a task
  • Needs physical activities to help maintain focus throughout the day
  • Difficulty staying focused at work or in meetings
  • Requires more clarification than usual, misinterprets questions and requests
  • Difficulty reading, especially out loud
  • Stumbles over words, speech lacks fluency
  • Must read material multiple times to absorb the content
  • Difficulty forming thoughts and ideas in oral presentations

 

Diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensory Diagnosis

How is SPD Diagnosed?
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SPD identification typically starts with a screening by an Occupational Therapist.  In my son’s case, his pediatrician referred us to the Occupational Therapist due to his delayed motor skills.  I sat in the lobby and filled out the parent checklist while the therapist evaluated my son.

She was able to tell me that day that he certainly had sensitivities to audio and tactile sensory input.  Of course, she would need to review the results of her evaluation and would be in touch.  Her highly detailed 9 page report on the results confirmed SPD.  We started occupational therapy immediately.

Sometimes the evaluation may warrant additional evaluations.  But often times, the Occupational Therapist is able to make the determination using standardized assessment tools.  These tools often include:

  • Bruinlinks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency – Second Edition
  • Goal Oriented Assessment of Life Skills (GOAL)
  • Miller Assessment for Preschoolers (MAP)
  • Miller Function and Participation Scales (MFUN)
  • Movement Assessment Battery for Children – Second Edition (Movement ABC-2)
  • Sensory Integration and Praxis Tests (SIPT)

 

SPD Treatment

As with Autism and ADHD, early intervention is important with SPD.  The symptoms of the disorder are not manageable by the child, the parents, the teachers, or anybody else alone.  Children often come across as different, weird, or awkward as a result.

Unfortunately, most children are not taught that everybody is unique and that they shouldn’t judge those that are different.  As a result, children with disabilities such as SPD, Autism, ADHD, etc. tend to be made fun of or negatively labeled as difficult, problem children or badly behaved children.

Sensory Labels

Build a Support System

These negative labels placed on children does cause years of suffering needlessly, exacerbates their already low self-confidence and self-esteem which steers them further and further down the rabbit hole.  Labels such as hyper, weird, aggressive, withdrawn, and different only adds to the child’s feelings of failure from not being able to do what other kids can do effortlessly (such as tying their shoes or riding a bike).

By getting an accurate diagnosis and beginning early intervention, we can provide the correct labeling for their “unusual” behaviors and help to stop the undeserved judging, stereotyping, and punishing of behaviors that they are simply unable to control.

We are able to help these children gain understanding and empathy from people and all around better treatment by giving them a positive label that identifies that the behaviors are due to an undesired and uninvited neurological condition.  It’s not the child’s fault, and it’s not the parent’s fault.

Early intervention also allows treatment to begin early on in life, while the child’s brain is still developing.  This lessons the impact of the disorder on the child later on in life.  It allows both the parents and the child to understand certain behaviors so that they can learn appropriate coping skills and reduce the stress caused by such behaviors.

If you have a child that seems to be displaying one or more of these symptoms, talk to your child’s pediatrician quickly.  Early diagnosis and intervention will help get your baby understand what is happening with them and why they are sensational.  If you have children that don’t have these symptoms, please educate your child on invisible disabilities and teach them to be accepting and understanding of those different than the norm.

Lastly, don’t be so quick to dismiss labels on children.  Remember that there is a huge difference between negative labels and medical labels.  The medical diagnosis that you might consider a label just might be the exact thing a child needs in order to get the help that they deserve.

If you’d like to help me raise some awareness on these “invisible” conditions that are often largely misunderstood, please hit share and get the word out.

Talk soon,

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The Decision to Homeschool My Child

What Happened?!?


My son is in 6th grade this year, his first year of Middle School.  We knew it was going to be a hard year for him as he will now have to transition to changing classes every hour instead of sitting in one classroom most of the day.  He was approved to stay in the Magnet Program with the school he went to for elementary school which meant he got to stay for Middle school as well.  But in order to stay in the Magnet Program, he had to meet certain academic criteria.

At the end of last year, we discussed that in his 504 Plan meeting.  The principal assured me that as long as my son showed effort that he was trying to keep up, then he wouldn’t be kicked out of the program and the school would support him.  While I hadn’t been thrilled with how certain teacher’s had handled my son in the past, overall the school had been better for him than the previous two schools I had him in.  So I was happy to keep him in an environment that he was already familiar with for Middle School.  However, my son and I had discussed this and I made him aware that we’re not going to continue jumping from school to

Shame

Enough is Enough

school.  This was the third school in six years.  If it didn’t work out at this school, I would homeschool him.  He dreaded that though and was absolutely against homeshooling as he did not want to be away from his friends.

However, he got halfway through sixth grade with pretty decent grades.  The very first week back from the winter holiday break, my son was called up to the Dean’s office and told that he had 3 days to pull his GPA up from 1.5 to 2.5 or he would be kicked out of the program.  This devastated him.  He came home crying and feeling like a complete failure, yet again.  His tics immediately started back up indicating that he was overly stressed and he cried off and on the entire weekend.  I was fed up and scared to death at the same time.  I’ve never seen my son that upset, that worthless.

 

Communication…or Lack Thereof


The Dean had tried to call me that same Friday, but I was in a business meeting and couldn’t answer her call right away.  I immediately left my meeting because I knew it was the school calling.  I called the school back but the front office had no idea who had called me.  And, as always, there was no message left on my voicemail at either of the numbers she called.  A few hours later, I received an email from her informing me that she had spoken to my son about his grades and she hoped I would work with him over the weekend on making up assignments he was missing.

Since I was upset, I waited until the following Monday to contact her.  I had spoken to my son over the weekend and determined that he had a few missing assignments and had earned a couple of zeros on group projects where other team members hadn’t done their part so the entire group failed.  There were four assignments that he admitted to not turning in.  So I instructed him to get them done and turn them in Monday.  When I emailed the Dean, I explained what my son had told me about some of the zeros and missing assignments.  I asked what would happen next.  Would they kick him out of the school next week or would he be allowed to finish the year?  Why had the teachers not been communicating with me about work not being turned in until there were only 3 days to do anything about it?  I asked very specific, targeted questions.  I copied the principal on the email because she had pulled me aside at the beginning of this year to tell me that the school was going to stand by my son.  “We’ll get him through it,” she said.School

Wednesday, two days later, I finally received a response from the Dean.  She had forwarded the email to the teachers as they could explain the zeros better than she could.  She told me her team would meet to make a decision and she would bring my concerns to the team at that time.  As for what happens next, they could either kick him out of the program altogether and kick him out of the school immediately, they could place him on academic probation for another quarter and reassess then, or they could release him from probation if his grades were high enough.  I never received a response from his teachers.

My son came home from school that day and told me that he had gone to one of his teachers and asked her if he could turn one of the missing assignments in to her the following day.  Her response to him was, “Why would I take it now?”  This made me angrier.  He did exactly what both the Dean and I instructed him to do, and that was her response.  That same day, the Guidance Counselor called him down and told him that she “doesn’t think” he’d be kicked out of the program just yet and that he’d probably be allowed to stay for the 3rd quarter.  So he gets to spend the next nine weeks worried about whether he’ll be kicked out after that quarter?  I don’t think so.  Not on my watch.

 

Homeschool


I called that very night and enrolled him into an Independent Study Homeschooling program.  I will teach him myself.  He has had his spirit broken down at school year after year.  How is he supposed to succeed at anything if he’s constantly being told he’s not good enough?  During the previous weekend, I had told him he was perfect to me.  That resulted in my son bursting into tears and thanking me.  Then he went to his room to sob…again.  At that point, I put my face in my hands and cried too.  I had never felt so helpless.  I can’t let them continue to destroy my son.  They will lead him to suicide, he’s already high risk just due to his disabilities.  I have to take control of his education and stop this nonsense.

I had him officially enrolled in homeschooling by the end of the day on Thursday and withdrew him from public school on Friday.  I needed to start doing damage control right away and get him built back up, his confidence level is at an all time low.  Since the principal had offered reassurance at the beginning of the year, I wanted to give her a personal explanation of what happened and why I pulled him out.  So I wrote her a letter and sent it to her via email.  It is entirely rhetorical and I am quite certain that I will never hear from that school again.  But I held my head high and explained to her my reasoning while getting everything off my chest at the same time.  This allowed me to close that chapter and move right on to the next.

Focused on Success

Focused on Success

Now, my son and I have just finished our first week of homeschooling.  It went pretty well and he is starting to get back to himself again.  He’s much happier now and is excited to learn again.  I think this was the right decision, at the right time.  That said, this may be right for my child and may not be right for everybody.  As parents, we have to understand that our children are unique and we have to find what will work for them.  I fought the public school system real hard for six years before giving up on them.  But I will not give up on my son.

If you are fighting similar battles with your own children and would like to talk or learn about potential options, please feel free to reach out to me.  I’m happy to share what I know and what I’ve tried in hopes that it will help another unique child.

Happy Parenting!

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