Many parents, teachers and caretakers come across the term “Sensory Processing Disorder” which is a new term relatively often used these days. But what even is sensory processing? To clarify the matter, this blog will explain the concept of sensory processing disorder and how to best approach it from the side of the parent or caretaker.
What is a sensory processing disorder?
By “sensory processing” we mean the process of organising sensations reaching our body from the environment. That includes everything we can see, hear, smell, taste or touch. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a condition that leads to an inaccurate perception of these sensations. Even though it is still unknown what causes SPD, children are more likely than adults to have SPD. Children with SPD are usually overly sensitive to stimuli that other people don’t perceive as such. But the disorder can also have the opposite effect, manifesting in children who tend to need and seek more stimuli than usually needed. The condition can affect one sense or multiple senses at the same time. Even though symptoms might be related, a child with SPD does by no means automatically have autism, ADHD or signs of difficult behaviour.
Symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder
Do the lights seem too bright? Are sounds too loud? Do some food textures seem annoying? These are signs that a child might suffer from an oversensitive SPD, meaning they feel overly stimulated by them. To give yourself an understanding of what that means, imagine feeling tickled every time you touch something with your hands. That’s why symptoms of SPD can also be paired with struggles in certain motor skills like f.e holding a pencil or climbing stairs.
On the other hand, children with undersensitive SPD tend to underreact to sensory input. They are likely to seek more thrill-seeking activities or tend to enjoy visual over-stimulation (like smartphones or TVs). You might see them jumping off tall things or swinging too high on the playground. Others might be undersensitive to pain which leads them to prefer playing rough and not understanding if they are hurting someone.
To support a child with hypersensitive SPD, experts suggest creating something that is called a “sensory diet”. This “diet” has not much to do with food but is rather a plan of specific physical activities that meet the child’s sensory needs. What does that include? For children with oversensitive SPD, the sensory diet will include activities to stay calm and find relief during overstimulation. On the other hand, for children with undersensitive SPS, the diet can include food with strong tastes and crunchy ingredients. Engaging children in sensory experiences can support their focus, curiosity and interaction.
Sensory Processing Disorder Treatment
It is very important that SPD is recognized, diagnosed and treated early on. If remaining untreated, the symptoms may develop into social isolation or even depression once the child reaches their teenage years.
A trained therapist can help the children from early on to learn how to experience stimuli without feeling overwhelmed. No matter if the child is overly sensitive or under sensitive, therapy will help the child to adapt and cope better with their condition. If you are having further questions or you are questioning rather you or your child might show signs of a sensory processing disorder, don´t hesitate to reach out here.
Charlie Chen is studying psychology and is currently doing an internship with Willingness. His research interests are existential approaches and affirmative therapy.