cute picture of hands with paintSensory Issues…when to worry, when to intervene, and when to relax.

We all have them… those little “quirks” that make you feel “wigged out” or “stressed out”. It may be the way your skin crawls at the sight of a centipede, walking barefoot in the grass, or wearing wool. You may need to cut out those irritating tags in your shirts. Maybe you get overwhelmed with all the kids talking (or screaming) in the car and can’t wait for the peace and quiet. You may crave a massage, neck or back rub to calm down. Your children have sensory preferences too. Some like to swing fast, some like to rock and be held, and some love to jump on a trampoline to feel calm and organized.

But when does a “sensory preference” become “Sensory Processing Disorder”?
Children and adults can suffer from sensory issues that affect their daily life skills and their social interactions. These issues are far more interfering than that pesky shirt tag. When a sensory issue has crossed the line into interfering with daily life with how an individual acts or reacts to their environment, then it is considered a “disorder” not a “quirk”.

This is the child that cannot tolerate playing with other children at a party due to being overly sensitive to sounds, touch, or movement. Or it may be the infant that cannot be consoled by typical rocking, massage, or being held. It’s the child who doesn’t sit still, fidgets and squirms, and craves wrestling, jumping, running, and climbing in excess. Many adults suffer from sensory issues that affect their daily life and limit them in the ability to socialize or even connect in personal relationships. When you are fighting daily over what your child needs to wear, eat, or their ability to tolerate normal grooming then it’s time to get some help.

Newest Research on SPD
Sensory Processing Disorder or “SPD” is a term used in the therapy community to describe a group of symptoms in which an individual’s nervous system over or under reacts or misinterprets sensations of touch, taste, smell, sounds, vision, movement, and muscles/joints. SPD is more prevalent in children than autism and as common as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, yet the condition receives far less attention partly because it’s never been recognized as a distinct disease. In a groundbreaking new study from UC San Francisco, researchers have found that children affected with SPD have quantifiable differences in brain structure, for the first time showing a biological basis for the disease that sets it apart from other neurodevelopmental disorders. One of the reasons SPD has been overlooked until now is that it often occurs in children who also have ADHD or autism, and the disorder has not been listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by psychiatrists and psychologists.
“Until now, SPD hasn’t had a known biological underpinning,” said senior author Pratik Mukherjee, MD, PhD, a professor of radiology and biomedical imaging and bioengineering at UCSF. “Our findings point the way to establishing a biological basis for the disease that can be easily measured and used as a diagnostic tool,” Mukherjee said.
Therapy is available with sensory integration trained occupational therapists to help individual’s sensory systems get “organized” and learn how to make accommodations in their daily routines to help calm their sensory nerves. Many insurance companies cover these services if they are affecting daily life skills or causing developmental delays.

The following are some “red flags” for when a sensory processing therapy evaluation may be needed:
“Sensory Avoider” Reacts with fear, flight, or aggression to any typical sensations such as: unexpected touch, loud noises, textures or certain clothing on skin, screams at haircuts or hair brushing, upset by typical movement experiences such as swinging or climbing, avoids touching foods or gags at sight of new foods, cries excessively over a small bump or cut, or gets carsick easily.
“Sensory Craver” Craves excessive amounts of movement, loud voice volume, “on the go” constantly, difficulty with attention, uses too much force in touch, takes too many risks on the playground, or spins excessively. These children are constantly “on the go”!
“Clumsy” Sensory motor issues can show up as gross or fine motor skill delays such as being very accident prone, poor balance skills, low muscle tone, difficulty learning to ride a bike, catch a ball, hop on one foot, or fine motor skill delays learning to write, cut, or do fasteners.

Most children and adults with SPD are a mixture of both under and over sensitive, which explains why inconsistent behavior is a hallmark of the disorder” states Lindsey Biel, co-author of Raising a Sensory Smart Child. “It’s not an obvious diagnosis. The behavior of a child with SPD can be confused with that of a kid who may have overlapping behaviors and a different diagnosis, such as ADHD. A child who doesn’t get enough proprioception will seek ways to stimulate his muscles and joints-continuously moving, or chewing. What’s more roughly 40% of the time kids have both SPD and ADHD.” states Dr. Lucy Miller founder of the STAR Center, a SPD therapy and research center in Colorado.

Finding the right help to understand sensory issues and a therapist that knows therapeutic procedures and activities that re-wire the sensory nervous system can be the beginning of understanding your child, yourself, and helping both of you get through the sensory filled world calm and collected.
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Heidi Clopton, Pediatric Occupational Therapist
Center of Development Pediatric Therapies