Sensory processing disorder (SPD) is a neurological condition that interferes with the brain’s ability to process and act on information received from the senses. A child with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon the information received through his senses via sounds, sights, movement, touch, smell, and taste. It may cause difficulty with gross motor skills, creating a clumsy walking gait or frequent tripping. It can also impair fine motor skills – like coloring, cutting, and handwriting. Frequently, it causes tactile hypersensitivity to smell, taste, and textures.
The causes of SPD are unclear. While the condition may be genetic, several extrinsic factors may also put a child at risk, such as maternal deprivation, premature birth, prenatal malnutrition, and early institutional care. The signs of SPD in children include:
- Feelings that a shade is pulled over the outside world
- Experiencing muted sights, sounds, and touch
- Frequent feelings of sensory overload
Common triggers of SPD include:
- Hair brushing
- Tight clothes or coarse fabric
- Loud noises such as fireworks or thunder
- Bright lights like camera flashes, sunshine, or strobes
- Strong odors including perfume or scented detergent
- Swimming in lakes
- Sticky fingers
- Tags on clothes
- Being touched or hugged
- Wearing shoes
- Tart or bitter foods
Symptoms at Home
Symptoms of SPD may present in a variety of ways. To determine whether your hypersensitive child may be showing signs of SPD, look for the following signs at home:
- Your little monkey is most calm when she is dangling upside down – whether it’s hanging off the side of her bed, or from the jungle gym in the back yard.
- He loves to help you make cookies, except when it’s time to put the sticky dough on the cookie sheets.
- After many complaints, you’ve switched to unscented laundry detergent and fabric softener.
- You only buy tagless shirts and seamless socks.
- Your child would rather swelter than wade in the pond. The feeling of mud between her toes is too much.
- Detangler is the product you can’t live without. And even with that, your child won’t let you comb her hair for more than a minute.
- At bedtime, your child resists a good night hug.
- Your family has given up on 4th of July fireworks. The loud booms always trigger a meltdown.
Symptoms at School
Children with SPD may struggle at school because they are taught information in a way their sensory processing systems can’t absorb. However, SPD is not linked to IQ. Children with the condition are no more or less intelligent than their peers. The following signs may suggest that SPD is affecting learning:
- The teacher complains your child has illegible handwriting or takes a long time to copy down instructions.
- In art class, your child has trouble with assignments that involve cutting or coloring.
- Your child refuses to buy lunch. The thought of having apple sauce for dessert gives her the heeby jeebies.
- At recess, your child prefers to ride the swings or the merry-go-round. He can’t play catch to save his life.
- Your child is covered in Band-Aids.
- Your child is refusing to change for gym class. When you asked him why, he said the locker room was too smelly.
- The teacher confiscated your child’s sunglasses because he was wearing them in class.
- Even when your child knows the material, she does poorly on tests. She says the sounds in the classroom break her focus.